4 things you need to know about choking for babies

Sarah Hunstead
Sarah Hunstead
Sarah Hunstead started CPR Kids because as a paediatric nurse knows that what a parent or carer does to help their sick or injured child in the minutes before an ambulance arrives, can directly impact the health outcome of their child.Sarah realised that a little knowledge, and confidence to act, could make all the difference. So Sarah set out to empower every adult to be able...
Created on Oct 15, 2023 · 3 mins read

Babies love to put everything in their mouths. We understand that this is developmentally normal, however, when busy little bodies run around with objects in their mouth, the risk of choking is high!

When it comes to eating, you need to be aware that choking and gagging are not the same. Choking is a medical emergency when an object (anything that can fit into an old-school film canister!) blocks the airway (breathing tubes) either completely or partially. Different from choking, gagging is completely normal – the gag reflex helps prevent choking. So, how do you tell the difference?

A child who is gagging may cough, turn red in the face, have watery eyes and their tongue may push out the offending bit of food or they may have a small vomit. This can happen when a child is learning to eat or even when they dislike the taste of the meal they are eating! The key is that the child won’t be too distressed by this, they will gag and then happily keep eating (provided it is not the taste that is putting them off). In contrast, a child who is choking will look scared. They may have an ineffective cough or be silent, and if the object isn’t cleared quickly, they will start to turn blue. They need your help very quickly!

When it comes to choking, here are 4 essential things you need to know:

Chop up the grapes (and sausages too!) 

A child’s airway are smaller than an adult’s. This makes them more susceptible to getting objects stuck. A grape is the perfect size to lodge in a child’s airway, and is incredibly difficult to get out once stuck. Always chop up the grapes into quarters when giving them to children. As long as they are no longer circular, they are less likely to get stuck. Don’t forget to chop cherry tomatoes and large blueberries too – basically anything spherical in shape, and avoid cutting sausages into circles, chop them into batons instead.

Sit down to eat 

You need the skills of a highly trained negotiator to keep a toddler at the table, however, running around with food does pose a risk of inhaling the contents of their mouth, even if it is just a snack. This goes for older kids too – kicking the footy around whilst eating a sandwich isn’t a great idea!

Stay where you can see them 

Even though it may be tempting to attend to another child when one child is occupied eating (and strapped into the high chair to prevent escape), stay with them. Choking can be silent, so always stay where you can see them.

Know what to do if your child is choking 

Most importantly, know what to do if a child does choke. Click on the link below to watch the CPR Kids video on the first aid for the choking child.

Don’t attempt to do abdominal thrusts (Heimlich manoeuvre) on a child; use back blows and chest thrusts as shown in this video. Remember, gagging is completely normal, choking is not.

Even though we can try and prevent accidents such as choking, they can still happen! We can’t wrap our children in cotton wool, and nor should we want to – they need to explore the world. However, following these simple tips can help prevent choking in a child in your care, and, most importantly, make sure you know the first aid response, just in case.

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