Choking in Infants

Choking occurs when food or a small object blocks a baby's airway. If the airway is completely blocked, oxygen can't reach the lungs, and brain damage or death can result. This is an extreme medical emergency. Knowing what to do can help save your baby's life.

Follow these steps

Call 911 for verbal instructions. To clear a baby's airway:

  • Support the baby's head and neck with one hand. Place the baby face down over your forearm. The head should be lower than the body.

  • Give your baby 5 hard blows on the back between the shoulder blades. Use the heel of your hand.

  • Turn the baby over. Keep the head lower than the body. Support the baby's head with your hand and thigh.

  • Using 2 or 3 fingers, give the baby 5 thrusts on the breastbone.

  • Check your baby's mouth. If you can see an object, remove it. Don't do a blind finger sweep.

  • Repeat this procedure until the object comes out.

  • If your baby becomes unconscious, start CPR. Begin with rescue breaths, and continue as instructed by the 911 operator on the phone.

When to go to the emergency room (ER)

First, call 911 or emergency services right away. Then begin lifesaving measures while you wait for help to arrive. If you're alone, first try to clear your baby's airway (see box). Don't attempt to drive to the ER yourself.

Follow up with your baby's healthcare provider even if your baby seems fine after a choking episode. Your baby may need X-rays to see if an object may be stuck in the esophagus or lungs.

What to expect in the ER

The emergency team will begin treatment right away. A breathing tube may be passed into your baby's windpipe (trachea). This sometimes pushes the object out of the way. If the tube can't be placed through the mouth into the windpipe, the breathing tube may be placed through a small incision in the neck. The tube helps your baby breathe on the way to the hospital. In the ER, a doctor will gently pass another thin, lighted tube (bronchoscope) into your baby's throat to find and remove the blockage.

Balloon, coin, button, and raisins with circle and slash on top to indicate keep these away from infants.
Keep small objects, such as balloons, raisins, small coins, and buttons, out of an infant's reach.

Tips to help prevent choking

  • Cut your baby's food into very small pieces.

  • Don't give your baby raisins, grapes, nuts, hot dog skin, or hard candies. These can easily become stuck in your baby's throat.

  • Don't let your baby play with small objects that can be swallowed. These include small toys, balloons, buttons, batteries, magnets, or coins.