Child hazards: What to do when your baby chokes

Babies below the age of 3 are at an increased risk of choking compared to older babies.

Babies below the age of 3 are at an increased risk of choking compared to older babies.

What you need to know:

In the aftermath of a choking episode, the Johns Hopkins Medicine recommends that you consult your pediatrician immediately if you notice that:

  • Your baby has a lasting cough, is drooling, gagging, wheezing, has trouble swallowing, or has trouble breathing.
  • Your child has become limp and, or was unconscious during the choking episode, even if he or she seemed to recover.
  • Your child swallowed the nonfood object they were choking on.

Choking in babies happens when an object, usually food or a toy is stuck in the airway known as the trachea. This prevents air from flowing into and out of the lungs in a normal way. Choking can turn into a medical, life-threatening emergency if the baby’s brain is deprived of oxygen.

Babies below the age of three are at an increased risk of choking compared to older babies. Signs that your baby is choking and needs immediate relief will usually include the inability to breathe properly, wheezing sound and gasping for air, inability to make noise, cry, or talk, panicky, grabbing throat, and waving arms without making noise.

Infants less than one-year: Call an emergency number or ambulance. According to Stanford Children Health, a pediatric and obstetric hospital network, place your baby face down on your forearm. Your arm should be resting on your thigh. Use the heel of your other hand to give the baby five quick, forceful blows between the shoulder blades. If the baby doesn’t get better, turn them on their back so that the head is lower than the chest. Place two fingers in the centre middle of the baby’s breast bone. This should be just below the nipples. Press inward rapidly for about five times. Alternate this technique and the first technique until the choking is overcome. If the baby loses consciousness, and an ambulance hasn’t arrived, rush them to the nearest hospital. Do not put your fingers into the baby’s mouth to try and induce vomit unless you have spotted the object within safe reach. Inserting your fingers into the baby’s mouth might push the choking object farther into their airway.

Babies over one-year: If your baby is over one-year and happens to choke, use the abdominal thrust technique known as the Heimlich Maneuver. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, stand or kneel behind your baby, then place your arms under their arms, around their upper abdomen. Clinch your fist and place it between their navel and ribs. Grasp this hand with your other hand and pull sharply inwards and upwards for about five times. “When a person does abdominal thrusts, a sudden burst of air is forced upward through the trachea from the diaphragm and will dislodge a foreign object and send it flying up into (or even out of) the mouth,” the Johns Hopkins Medicine states in their recommendation. When doing this technique, be careful not to inflict damage on the baby’s lower ribcage by applying too much pressure. If the choking doesn’t stop, and your child is still conscious, reapply the techniques of back blows and abdominal or chest thrusts in sequence.

The aftermath of choking

In the aftermath of a choking episode, the Johns Hopkins Medicine recommends that you consult your pediatrician immediately if you notice that:

  • Your baby has a lasting cough, is drooling, gagging, wheezing, has trouble swallowing, or has trouble breathing.
  • Your child has become limp and, or was unconscious during the choking episode, even if he or she seemed to recover.
  • Your child swallowed the nonfood object they were choking on.

Quick takeaway

It is wrong to hold your child upside down and juggle them in hope that the object they are choking from will come out. According to the Red Cross, you may cause further injury if you happen to drop them. The action of tipping them upside down may also move the object further down their throat.

Preventing your baby from choking

Johns Hopkins Medicine recommends that:

  • You should avoid giving your baby foods that have choking risks. These are the foods that are of a similar or close size to a baby’s airway. They include sausages, smokies, hot dogs, grapes, raw carrots, chunks of meat, and popcorn.
  • You should serve your baby food in small bites. If you are serving the baby fruit, cut it into small pieces. Teach them to eat one piece at a time. Also, teach your baby to eat without talking or laughing with food in the mouth.

Keep your house tidy if you have crawling or walking babies. Babies within this development phase have a tendency to grab and put things in their mouths. Keep items such as small toys, beads, grains, coins, and needles out of their reach. To determine if a toy is too small, see if it passes easily through an empty cardboard toilet paper tube. If it does, it's too small.

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