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First Aid for Choking Children

November 29, 2021

Young children will put just about anything into their mouth—it’s how they explore. While it’s an important step in developing their sensory motor skills, this habit also poses a choking hazard for the little tykes. Whether you’re a parent, teacher, or caregiver for children, knowing basic first aid for a choking child is essential in case of an emergency.

Preventing Choking in Children

The best way to prevent a child from choking in the first place is to be aware of choking hazards. Things that are smaller than a D-size battery are considered a risk and should be kept out of reach: toys with small parts, coins, office supplies, marbles, jewelry, condiment caps, and so on.

Food can also pose a significant choking hazard. Avoid giving small, hard, smooth foods to children younger than four. This includes:

  • Nuts
  • Cherries with pits
  • Hard candies
  • Raisins
  • Popcorn
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Cherry tomatoes

For the same age group, also avoid slippery and sticky foods, like grapes, hot dogs, peanut butter, and marshmallows. These can accidentally slide down their throat without chewing or get stuck in their esophagus.

Always chop food into smaller pieces for children. As they get older, teach them to do it themselves, and encourage them to chew thoroughly.

When a Child is Choking

When you’ve noticed the signs that a child is choking, it’s time to react. If you’re with other people, get someone to call 911 while you begin treatment. No matter their age, never put your fingers into the child’s mouth—this can push the object or food further into the airway.

For Children Over a Year Old

If the child is still conscious and able to speak, encourage them to cough hard to dislodge the object. If they’re unable to speak, immediately proceed to do the Heimlich Maneuver. Continue until the object is dislodged. Stop if the child stops breathing or falls unconscious.

For Children Under One Year Old

If the infant is not coughing or crying, proceed to first aid—otherwise, they may expel the blockage themselves.

With your arm on your thigh, lay the choking infant face down on your forearm with their chest resting in your hand. Make sure their head is positioned lower than their torso and stabilize their chin with your fingers. With the palm of your other hand, deliver five quick, forceful blows between the child’s shoulder blades.

If the object isn’t dislodged, turn the infant to their back, keeping their head lower than the chest. In the middle of the breastbone (slightly below the nipples), use two fingers to push the chest down five times, compressing to the proper depth. Continue alternating between back blows and chest compressions until the object is dislodged. Stop if the infant stops breathing or falls unconscious.

In the case of an unconscious child, carefully move them face up on the ground. Look for the object in their mouth—if you can see it, carefully remove it. Otherwise, administer CPR.

As always, CPR is an invaluable resource during an emergency. If you’re interested in getting your CPR certification, schedule a class with Specialized Health and Safety today.