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BLOG: How to help a choking baby or child

According to St John Ambulance figures, approximately 34 children require treatment every day, after choking on food. Their study revealed that 40% of parents had witnessed their own baby choke, yet over 80% of these parents had no idea what to do when it happened

Choking is such an important topic that we always cover it on all our first aid courses. It is vital that parents and child carers have a chance to use a choking vest to ensure they fully understand the exact manoeuvres required and would be confident faced with such an emergency.

It is even more important that all nursery and child care workers are fully trained and competent recognising when a baby or child is choking and swiftly coming to their aid.

As babies and children like to put things in their mouths, frequently choke on all sorts of small objects. It is therefore critically important that everyone looking after children is particularly vigilant with hazards such as deflated balloons, beads, coins, small toys and that they adhere to age recommendations for toys.

What to do when a child is choking - for the purpose of first aid a child is aged from 1 year to puberty

Babies and young children can choke on lots of things, even up to the size of something that could fit through a loo roll.

To prevent choking

  • Keep such small objects out of reach, cut up food into very small pieces.
  • Always supervise children while they’re eating. Especially if they’re under 5-years-old.

If a child is choking and their airway is totally blocked, they will be unable to speak or cry. If they are able to make a sound, their airway is not totally blocked. It will be frightening for them, but they are still able to breathe and can usually clear this themselves by coughing. If they can’t you may still need to help them.

If a child appears to be choking, stay calm and ask them to cough. If they are able to cough, they can often release whatever is stuck themselves. If they are unable to cough, then they will need help.

Bend the child forward, with one hand supporting them on their chest. With the other hand and use the flat of your hand to give a firm back blow between the shoulder blades. Check to see if the blockage has cleared before giving another blow.

If the back blows haven’t helped, get an ambulance on the way.

If they are still unable to breathe after five back blows, begin abdominal thrusts, stand behind the child and place one hand in a fist between their tummy button and their rib cage. Use the other hand to pull up and under in a J shaped motion, to dislodge the obstruction. Perform abdominal thrusts up to 5 times, checking each time to see if the obstruction has cleared.

It is important to remember that anyone who has received abdominal thrusts should be seen by a doctor.

If the child is still choking, call 999 (or 112) and alternate five back blows and five abdominal thrusts until emergency help arrives. If at any point the child becomes unconscious, start CPR immediately.

What to do when a baby is choking – for first aid purposes, a baby is under a year

  • First look in the baby’s mouth and if there is something obvious in the mouth, remove it with your fingertips.
  • DO NOT put your fingers down a baby or child’s throat, or finger sweep the mouth, as this can make matters worse by pushing the obstruction further down or by causing swelling.

When babies are weaning and learning to eat solid foods, it is common for them to gag. In gagging, they are exploring new textures and expelling their food from their throat. Gagging is an effective way that the body avoids choking and although it is noisy and alarming, it is to be encouraged. Many people confuse choking and gagging, but there are clear differences and they require different approaches – for more information on this click here.

A baby that is choking and has a complete obstruction of their airway, will be silent.

  • Lay the baby downwards on your forearm or across your legs, supporting them under their chin and using the flat of your hand, give a firm back blow between the shoulder blades.
  • Give up to five back blows and check between each blow to see if the blockage has cleared. If the obstruction has not come out get an ambulance on the way
  • If the blockage hasn’t cleared, lay the baby on their back, place two fingers in the centre of the chest just below the nipple line and give up to five chest thrusts.

Warning: Never do an abdominal thrust on a baby under a year as you could cause damage.

  • Check to see if the blockage has cleared between each chest thrust.
  • If baby is still choking, call 999/112 and continue alternate five back blows and five chest thrusts until emergency help arrives.
  • If at any point baby becomes unconscious, start CPR.

If the obstruction comes out: 

  • and they are unconscious and breathing, put them into the recovery position
  • and they are unconscious and not breathing, start CPR
  • and they seem absolutely fine – ensure that they don’t have problems swallowing, check there is no pain or bleeding – it is always advisable to have them checked out by a medical professional.

If it is not your child, ensure that you have contacted the parents.

If someone has been given abdominal thrusts or chest thrusts, they should always be checked by a medical professional

About the author

First Aid for Life is an multi-award-winning first aid training business, specialising in Paediatric first aid. We offer practical and blended first aid training tailored, taught by highly experienced medical, health and emergency services professionals and tailored to your needs. We also have a free e-book with essential first aid for all nannies and child carers

It is strongly advised that you attend a Practical First Aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency. Please visit or email for more information about our courses. First Aid for life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information.

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