Knowing how to help when an infant is choking can save their life. Acting promptly and calling 911 to get help from first responders are both essential.

Choking is a leading cause of death among young children, especially babies under 1 year old. A choking infant needs immediate care.

It is essential to dial 911 while tending to the child so that first responders are on the way as soon as possible. Doing this will give the baby the best chance of survival.

This article will explain how to know when an infant is choking, what to do to help, and what action to take if the infant remains unresponsive. It will also explain how to prevent an infant from choking in the first place.

A parent spoon feeds their child at a high table, feeding without due care can lead to an infant chokingShare on Pinterest
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If a baby can cough, cry, or talk, their airway is not fully blocked.

In such cases, it is best to encourage them to cough rather than trying to remove the object.

A baby may be choking if they:

  • stop making noise while eating and appear panicked or unable to breathe
  • suddenly stop coughing
  • make a high-pitched wheezing sound
  • get a blue tinge to the lips or skin
  • look frantic or scared and cannot make noise
  • lose consciousness

A baby who is unconscious will appear to be asleep, but an adult will not be able to wake them. They may not be breathing.

Babies can choke in their sleep, so a baby who stops breathing in their sleep, turns blue, or will not wake up may be choking.

A person should not intervene unless a baby shows signs of choking.

If the baby is coughing, the person should encourage them to keep coughing. Trying to help the child in any other way may actually force an obstructing object deeper into their throat.

However, if a baby cannot breathe or make noise, this means that something has completely blocked their airway, and immediate action is necessary.

If the person is alone with the baby, they should call 911 and put the responder on speaker phone while tending to the baby.

If another person is present, they can call 911 while the first person tends to the baby. Doing this immediately means that first responders will reach the baby as soon as possible.

If the baby is under 1 year of age, a person should follow these steps:

  • Place the baby face down on the adult’s nondominant arm with their head lower than their body. Make sure that the baby’s head is fully supported and that they are in a secure position. The adult can use their legs to help stabilize the baby but should avoid placing pressure on the baby’s back or neck.
  • Using the heel of the other hand, give five firm slaps in between the shoulder blades. These slaps should be forceful enough to help push the object up out of the baby’s airway.
  • If the object does not move, lie the baby on a firm surface. Place two fingers in the baby’s breastbone at about heart level and thrust down five times at a rapid but forceful rate to help supply the body with oxygen.
  • Continue alternating between back slaps and chest thrusts until help arrives.

If the baby stops responding or is unconscious, the person should focus on supplying the baby’s body with oxygen and do the following:

  • Lie the baby on their back on a firm, flat surface with their head and neck in a neutral position.
  • Administer chest thrusts by placing two fingers in the center of the baby’s chest and pushing down firmly. Repeat 30 times at a rate of about 100 thrusts per minute.
  • After 30 chest thrusts, check to see whether the object has gone. If not, give the baby oxygen. Place the mouth fully over the baby’s nose and mouth and breathe lightly into the baby’s mouth two times.
  • Repeat by alternating between 30 thrusts and two breaths until help arrives.

Choking happens when something blocks the airway. Babies have very small airways, which means that even little objects can get stuck.

Any toy or other item that can fit in a toilet paper roll is potentially a choking hazard.

Coughing is not the same as choking. Coughing can mean that something has irritated a baby’s throat or that a baby is sick. Babies may also cough when something partially blocks their airway.

Some common causes of choking include:

  • eating too quickly
  • talking, playing, or bouncing while eating
  • stuffing too much food into the mouth
  • eating whole foods that are choking hazards, such as peanuts or blueberries
  • putting small toys, such as beads or tiny figures, in the mouth
  • playing with broken toys, which may have small parts that have come off

People can reduce the risk of a baby choking by:

  • giving them food only when an adult can supervise them and not feeding them in the car or their crib
  • feeding the baby in a seated position and not allowing them to run or play when eating
  • keeping small toys off the floor
  • checking baby toys for choking hazards, such as buttons on stuffed animals
  • avoiding giving a baby toys with small parts, especially in a stroller or crib where they may choke without an adult noticing
  • cutting up potential choking hazards, such as blueberries and small tomatoes
  • refraining from giving babies popcorn, chips, hard candy, gum, or other potential choking hazards
  • attending an infant first aid and CPR class
  • ensuring that all caregivers understand which items are choking hazards and know how to intervene if the baby shows signs of choking

Choking can be terrifying, but prompt action can save an infant’s life.

The best course of action is to seek emergency help as quickly as possible while tending to the baby.

Parents or caregivers can usually remove trapped objects with repeated back blows and chest thrusts, so they should keep trying even if the first effort does not work.

It is important to call a doctor after a choking episode, as there may be damage to the baby’s airway, or they might have sustained other injuries.