What to do if a child is choking

Netcare 911’s step-by-step guide to assisting a child or baby who may be choking.

When asked what to do when a young child is choking, Netcare 911 emphasised the importance of keeping calm and acting quickly.

They said speed is of the essence in any choking situation. Being able to dislodge a blockage quickly greatly minimises the risk of further complications. However, never try to remove a foreign object unless you can see it, as you can run the risk of pushing it further into the airway.

Depending on their age, the child may not be able to communicate that they are choking. Therefore, as soon as you notice a baby or younger child is unable to cry, cough or talk, something is likely blocking their airway. They may even turn bright red or blue. It is important to keep calm and think rationally about what you will need to do to best assist the child.

Remember, emergency medical services must be summoned as soon as possible when someone is choking, because if these steps do not work, choking can very quickly result in the person losing consciousness and suffocating. The sooner paramedics are called, the sooner they will arrive on scene and the greater the chance of a positive outcome.

Below is Netcare 911’s guide to assisting a child or baby who may be choking.

What to do if a child is choking:

• Firstly, try to encourage them to cough. Often the child will forget to try this, and forceful coughing may successfully expel the object
*Arrange for someone else to call emergency medical services while you assist the victim. They can call Netcare 911 on 082 911, and make sure they immediately tell the call centre that someone is choking.

If this doesn’t work, do the Heimlich manoeuvre:

• Stand or kneel behind the child
• Wrap your arms around them, and make a fist with one hand. Place your fist against the stomach, just above the belly button
• Place your other hand over your fist. Position your body up against the child
• Give a series of five hard forceful squeezes. You are trying to force the air out of the child, in an attempt to dislodge the object
• Check in the mouth to see if you can see the object. If you can see it, pull it out

If the thrusts don’t work, then do a series of back blows:

• Have the child positioned with the head as low as possible
• Hit the child forcefully between the shoulder blades
• Repeat this five times
• Keep repeating Heimlich thrusts and back blows until the object is released or check if you can see the object to pull it out

What to do if a baby is choking:

• Lay the infant face down along your arm, with the head lower than the rest of the body
• Give five hard slaps on the baby’s back. You should do this to shake the object loose, so don’t be too gentle
• If the object doesn’t come out, turn the baby on his /her back. While supporting the entire baby, place two fingers on the middle of the chest. Give up to five hard chest thrusts
• Keep repeating black slaps and chest thrusts until the object comes out, or keep checking in the mouth to see if you can see the object. If you can see it, pull it out

If the object does not come out in the first few seconds, it is essential to call for professional help.

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