British Red Cross first aid Q&A

British Red Cross first aid Q&A

The British Red Cross often gets asked questions about choking as the subject causes a great deal of apprehension. Gurgle investigates some of the most commonly asked ones

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Questions & Answers

How can I tell if a baby is choking?

If a baby is choking, they will be unable to cry, cough, make any other noise or breathe.

Why do I have to hold my baby with its head lower than its bottom?

With babies, the blockage is often a liquid (milk curdle or mucous) so ensuring the head is lower than the bottom helps the liquid to drain out – gravity will lend a helping hand.

Why do I have to support the head?

Supporting the head will help to keep the airway open, helping to facilitate the dislodging of the object from the baby’s airway.

How hard should the back blows be?

You should modify the force of the back blows depending on the size of the baby, so you need to be gentler with a smaller baby than you are with a larger baby. The force with which you deliver the back blows should also be relative to your own strength. However, keep in mind that the most common problem with choking injuries is people not delivering back blows with enough force. They need to be hard enough to cause a vibration in the windpipe and dislodge the object.

Can I do abdominal thrusts (Heimlich manoeuvre) on a baby?

No, don’t squeeze a baby’s tummy. Abdominal thrusts are used to treat choking in children and adults only. Using abdominal thrusts on a baby could cause further damage as their internal organs are fragile and still developing.

If my baby is choking, should I hang them upside down by their feet?

No, this is not effective and may cause further injury if you happen to drop them. Tipping them upside down may also embed the object further.

Should I try to pull the object out with my fingers?

We do not recommend putting your fingers blindly into the mouth to try and remove any foreign object. You risk pushing the object further down the throat or actually damaging the soft tissue at the back of the throat, which is extremely sensitive and so could swell and cause further damage. However, if you can clearly see an object in a baby's mouth and you are able to pluck it out safely with your finger tips, you could do so.

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Have a look at our article What to do if my child is choking?, for more advice.

To find out more baby and child first aid fast tips, look at redcross.org.uk

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