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When a Baby Is Choking (Up to Age 1)

Babies often want to put things into their mouth. This includes toys and food. And it can include anything they find nearby, such as a pen cap or coin. Small objects can choke a baby. This happens when the object slips into the baby’s airway (trachea). A blocked airway can be very serious, even deadly. Choking can block the flow of air and cut off oxygen to the brain.

This sheet can help you prepare for a choking emergency. It will also help you take steps to prevent a baby from choking.

What are choking hazards?

Any object small enough to enter a baby's airway can block it. This includes:

  • Small food pieces, such as nuts, grapes, beans, popcorn, hotdog pieces, or food that hasn’t been chewed well

  • Small household objects, such as buttons, marbles, coins, balloons, or beads

  • Small toy parts

  • Breastmilk or formula swallowed too quickly

  • Too much mucus in the throat

Signs of choking

The signs of choking can include:

  • Violent coughing

  • A high-pitched sound when breathing in

  • Being unable to cough, breathe, cry, or make sounds

  • Face that turns pale and blue-tinted

Assessing the situation

The steps to take when a baby is choking will vary in these situations:

  • If a baby has trouble breathing, and can’t cry or make sounds

  • If a baby stops breathing or is unconscious, and you are not alone

  • If a baby stops breathing or is unconscious, and you are alone

The instructions for each situation are below.

If a baby has trouble breathing, and can’t cry or make sounds

  1. Do NOT put your finger into the baby’s mouth to remove the object. Your finger could push the object deeper into the baby’s throat.

  2. Tell someone nearby to call 911.

  3. Do the Heimlich maneuver (see instructions below).

If a baby stops breathing or is unconscious, and you are not alone

  1. Tell someone nearby to call 911.

  2. Lay the baby down on his or her back on a hard, flat surface such as a table, floor, or the ground.

  3. Start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) (see instructions below).

  4. Repeat CPR until emergency services arrives, or the baby starts breathing.

If a baby stops breathing or is unconscious, and you are alone

  1. Lay the baby down on his or her back on a hard, flat surface such as a table, floor, or the ground.

  2. Do CPR (see instructions below) for 2 minutes (5 cycles).

  3. Call 911 after the 5th cycle.

  4. Repeat CPR until emergency services arrives, or the baby starts breathing.

How to do the Heimlich maneuver on a baby

Closeup of person holding baby on one arm, face down. Arrow shows heel of hand striking baby's back. Another image shows baby, face up, head supported. Adult places two or three fingers in the middle of baby's breastbone and thrusts downward 5 times.

You may need to use this method when a baby is choking:

  1. Lay the baby stomach-down on your forearm. Gently support the baby’s face and neck in your hand. If needed, sit down and rest your arm on your thigh. Make sure the baby’s head is slightly lower than the rest of his or her body. This will help the object to be dislodged from the throat more easily.

  2. Use the heel of your free hand to give 5 quick thumps (back blows) between the baby’s shoulder blades.

  3. If the object is still stuck in the throat, turn the baby face up on your forearm. Support the head. Place 2 or 3 fingers in the middle of the baby’s breastbone. Push down about 1/2 to 1 inch. Do this 5 times fast.

  4. Check the baby’s mouth to see if the object is dislodged. If not, repeat steps 2 and 3 until the baby’s throat is clear and the baby is breathing normally.

How to do cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)

You may also need to use this method if a choking baby has no pulse (heartbeat) and is not breathing:

  1. Give 30 chest compressions. To do this, use the heel of your hand to push down on the lower part of the breast bone of your baby’s chest, just below the nipple line. Push in about 1.5 inches (4 cm). Do this 30 times fast. It should take about 20 seconds.

  2. Tilt the baby’s head back and chin down. Check inside the mouth for an object. If you see it, carefully try to sweep it to the side. Be very careful to not push it further into the throat.

  3. Give 2 rescue breaths. To do this, gently lift the chin up with one hand and tilt the head back. Cover your baby’s mouth and nose with your mouth. Gently give 2 puffs of air into your baby’s mouth and nose. Each breath should take about 1 second. Watch to see if the baby’s chest rises.

  4. If the baby doesn’t start breathing, do another 30 chest compressions followed by 2 rescue breaths.

Help prevent a baby from choking

  • Keep an eye on babies as they eat or play.

  • Keep problem foods and objects away from babies. This includes small foods and small household objects.

  • Don’t let babies play with toys with small parts.

  • Safety-proof your home by removing small objects that a baby may reach.

  • Check for toys recalled for choking hazards on the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website

 

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