What you need to know about choking and how to respond

Choking is considered the leading cause of death in infants, and the fourth cause of death for children aged five years and below. In fact, around three percent of choking incidents occur in kids three years old or younger.

Thankfully, there are ways a parent or caregiver can prevent a child from choking, as well as first aid methods they can employ should the injury occur. Here are some helpful and life-saving tips.

Managing choking at home

  • Ensure that there are no small objects around that the infant could put inside his mouth.

  • Prepare age-appropriate food. For babies, opt for small, mushy pieces, and for toddlers, make sure food is portioned into bite-sized pieces.

  • Keep infants and toddlers under close supervision at all times. Do not let them walk or run around while eating.

Kinds and signs of choking

It is crucial that you can identify the signs when an infant or toddler is choking. Here are two kinds of obstruction to watch out for and their telltale signs:

Partial airway obstruction: Some air is still able to pass in the airways, making it difficult to breathe.


  • Pale/Reddish face

  • Making high-pitched wheezing noises

  • Coughing

  • Crying

Full or complete obstruction: No air is able to pass in the airway, making it impossible to breathe.


  • Greyish face

  • Inability to breathe, cough, or speak

  • Grabbing at the throat

First Aid Response

When an infant or toddler chokes, it is essential that you act swiftly. You need to open up the airway immediately using the proper method for their age. If the victim is able to speak, encourage them to cough more, as this can push the object to come out on its own.

Full obstruction in an infant:

  1. Have someone call an ambulance.

  2. Sit down and place the infant face down on your lap while supporting his weight. Hold him under the chin and support his neck with your less dominant hand.

  3. Locate the infant’s shoulder blades, imagining a dot in the center. Using the palm of your free hand, give the baby up to five quick downward blows to the center of his shoulder blades.

  4. Check if the object has come out. If it does not, turn the baby face-up in the same position on your thighs. This time, support the back of his neck. Using the nipples as a guide, find the imaginary center dot once more.

  5. Place your middle and index finger on that center dot and give the infant five chest thrusts about one and a half inches deep.

  6. If the object comes out, stop and place the child into a recovery position.

  7. If the object does not come out, turn the baby over and keep repeating the series of five back blows and five chest thrusts until the object comes out or until you get medical assistance.

  8. If the object comes out but the baby has become unresponsive or has stopped breathing, start rescue breathing or CPR.

Full Obstruction, over one year of age:

  1. Stand behind the person with one leg forward between his legs. These must be shoulder-width apart.

  2. Put your arms around the victim’s abdomen and find the belly button.

  3. Using your less dominant hand, make a fist just above the belly button with the thumb facing the abdomen.

  4. Place your dominant hand over your fist.

  5. Make a quick “J” motion with your fist, going inward and upward. Repeat this motion until the object comes out.

  6. If the object comes out but the person has become unconscious and is not breathing, call an ambulance.

  7. Start rescue breathing or CPR.

Full obstruction and you are alone:

  1. Do not panic. Send an SMS for help or to the ambulance emergency services.

  2. Find a chair, counter or table that is smooth and not sharp.

  3. Face the edge of the chair, counter or table and give yourself abdominal thrusts.

  4. Repeat and increase your strength each time until the object comes out.

With these tips, we hope you are able to prevent choking from happening in the household. If it should occur, the key is to remain calm and act fast.


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