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Jennifer L.W. Fink
Registered Nurse

What Should I Do if Baby Chokes?

How to save baby’s life if he’s choking or has a partially blocked airway.

Why are babies prone to choking?

Babies’ and toddlers’ airways are tiny and vulnerable to obstruction — plus they put everything in their mouths! Choking occurs when something lodges in a child’s airway and blocks the flow of oxygen.

Food is the most common cause of choking episodes in young kids. Babies need to learn how to chew and swallow effectively, and it’s not at all unusual for a baby to cram more food into her mouth than she can handle.

Too-big chunks of food can also cause a choking episode, as can accidents with nonfood items. It’s best to keep all potential choking hazards, including small toys and household objects, out of baby’s reach.

How would I know if baby were choking?

Your child might get a sudden, startled look on his face. You might hear some small  coughs as he attempts to clear his airway, followed by a funny, high-pitched sound — or no sound. His face may turn red or bluish.

Then what should I do?

“If you find that your child has something in his mouth, the best thing to do is to pick him up and do back blows,” says Katherine O’Connor, MD, a pediatric hospitalist at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York City. “Don’t try to put your finger in to get it out, because you may accidentally force the object farther in. Just pick up your child and hit him on the back.”

It’s a good idea to take an  infant CPR class, so you get hands-on instruction and practice.

What can I do to prevent choking?

“Children under the age of three shouldn’t play with anything that’s smaller than the size of the inside of a toilet paper roll,” O’Connor says.

Food should always be cut into bite-size pieces; avoid common choking hazards such as grapes, nuts and popcorn until your child is older than three. Always supervise baby during mealtimes.

What do other moms say about choking?

“Okay, I can’t take this anymore. My daughter keeps choking. On nothing. Saliva and mucus, I guess. Most of the time, it lasts a second or two. As quick as I notice it, she’s recovered. But we’ve had about four times that it’s been like a good 30 seconds. She gets super-red, her eyes get huge and she looks petrified, and she can’t make a sound. I’m so afraid.”

“My daughter did this twice, and it was the scariest thing ever. Once she spit up while I was changing her, and she couldn’t breathe. I guess it went back down and choked her. I sat her up and it was still going on for about 30 seconds; she then cried. Another time when she was asleep, I heard a gasp and then saw her wide-awake choking as well. I wish I knew how to make it stop… We have her pediatrician appointment today — I’ll ask the doctor about it.”

“There’s an expensive OTC solution that may help; SimplyThick [though it shouldn’t be given to premature infants]. We add it to my LO’s bottle. Mention it to your pediatrician and see if it’s worth trying. They may have free samples for you to try before spending $70 per case. You can buy SimplyThick in drugstores.”

What other resources are there on choking?

The Bump expert: Katherine O’Connor, MD, a pediatric hospitalist at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York City