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Choking in Infants

Choking occurs when food or a small object blocks a baby's airway. If the airway is completely blocked, oxygen can't reach the lungs, and brain damage or death can result. This is an extreme medical emergency. Knowing what to do can help save your baby's life.

To clear a baby's airway, follow these steps (call 911 for verbal instructions):

  • Support the baby's head and neck with one hand. Place the baby face down over your forearm. The head should be lower than the body.

  • Give your baby five hard blows on the back between the shoulder blades. Use the heel of your hand.

  • Turn the baby over. Keep the head lower than the body. Support the baby's head with your hand and thigh.

  • Using two or three fingers, give the baby five thrusts on the breastbone.

  • Repeat this procedure until the object comes out.

When to Go to the Emergency Room (ER)

First, call 911 or emergency services right away. Then begin lifesaving measures while you wait for help to arrive. If you're alone, first try to clear your baby's airway (see sidebar). Don't attempt to drive to the ER yourself.

What to Expect in the ER

The emergency team will begin treatment right away. A breathing tube may be passed into your baby's windpipe (trachea). This sometimes pushes the object out. If not, the breathing tube may be placed through a small incision in the windpipe. The tube helps your baby breathe on the way to the hospital. In the ER, a doctor will gently pass another thin, lighted tube (bronchoscope) into your baby's throat to locate and remove the blockage.

Balloon, coin, button, and raisins with circle and slash on top to indicate keep these away from infants.
Keep small objects, such as balloons, raisins, small coins, and buttons, out of an infant's reach.

Tips to Help Prevent Choking

  • Cut your baby's food into very small pieces.

  • Avoid raisins, grapes, nuts, hot dog skin, and hard candies. These can easily become stuck in your baby's throat.

  • Don't let your baby play with small objects that can be swallowed, such as small toys, balloons, buttons, batteries, or coins.

Online Medical Reviewer: Grantham, Paula, RN, BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Hanrahan, Maura, MD
Last Review Date: 12/26/2012
© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.