When you become a parent for the first time, or when you find yourself caring for infants regularly, you suddenly become acutely aware of everything that could go wrong with the baby. Those sweet infants seem so fragile and helpless, and we want to do everything we can to help them in an emergency.
Most of the time, it’s relatively clear when your infant is suffering, hurt, or in danger. Other times, however, the signs of danger are more subtle. This can sometimes be the case with choking.
Choking is extremely dangerous for young babies, who not only are not able to help themselves while choking, but are not even able to communicate that they are choking. This leaves it entirely up to the parent or caregiver to recognize the signs of choking and take steps to clear the infant’s airway.
Infant CPR provides choking relief training in each of our CPR certification courses, including the course for infants. That is the best way to receive comprehensive online training on the subject. That said, everyone who cares for children needs to know the warning signs of a choking infant, so we’re discussing the most common ones below.
The baby’s lips and/or skin turn blue.
One of the surest (and most shocking) signs of choking in infants is for the infant’s skin to take on a bluish hue. This blue tint can be very alarming to parents and caregivers. If this happens, you can be certain that something is keeping the baby from receiving adequate oxygen.
The baby can’t cry or make noise.
We’d like to think that someone who is choking would cry out for help, and that an infant would cry if they were unable to breathe. But the fact is, when the airway is blocked, it’s impossible to make noise. If your infant looks like he/she is crying, but is making no sound, they could be choking.
The baby can’t breathe, or has to make an effort to breathe.
If your baby isn’t breathing, or is gasping or wheezing heavily, they might be choking. If the infant is still able to cough, it’s possible that the airway isn’t completely blocked. Allow the baby to cough in an attempt to clear the airway (but you should still call for help). Do not slap the child on the back or try to clear the airway (if coughing) with your finger because you could actually move the object further down. Instead, let them cough and try to get it up.
The baby appears panicked or troubled, and may wave their arms.
If your infant begins flailing their arms or seems otherwise distressed or panicked, it could be a warning sign of choking. This is especially true when combined with one of the other signs.
The infant loses consciousness or goes limp.
Another extremely troubling symptom of choking could be loss of consciousness. If the baby goes unconscious and isn’t breathing, you will need to perform infant CPR.
If you see any of these signs of choking, it’s easy to panic. However, it’s important to remain as calm as possible, so that you can perform choking relief procedures quickly and effectively.
To provide choking relief to infants:
- Make sure the baby is not coughing or crying. Assess the situation to make sure the baby is truly at risk for choking. If the baby has a strong cough or is crying, the airway is likely only partially blocked, and it will be easier for the baby to cough out the blockage. Anything you might do (including back blows) could actually make the situation worse. Do not administer choking relief if the baby is choking or crying.
- Do not try to remove the object with your fingers. Trying to pull an object out of the infant’s airway is more likely to make the situation worse.
- Call 911. If you are not sure how to help relieve your baby’s choking, call 911 immediately. They may be able to walk you through life-saving procedures, and will also send professional help your way.
- Administer back blows. Hold the infant face down on your forearm, with their head lower than their body. Hold their mouth open with your hand on that same arm. Using the heel of your free hand, give up to five quick blows to the infant’s back, right between the shoulder blades.
- Perform chest thrusts. If the back blows don’t dislodge the item, turn the baby over on its back, holding the infant in your lap. Make sure to support the head. Place two fingers in the middle of the chest, and give five quick thrusts downward (about one-third of the depth of the chest).
- Repeat back blows and chest thrusts. Repeat these steps until the blockage is removed, help arrives, or the baby loses consciousness. If this happens, you will need to begin CPR.
Be aware of choking hazards, and keep them out of reach.
The best way to keep baby from choking is to reduce the risk in the first place. Know the most common choking hazards, and keep them out of reach. Babies tend to gravitate to small, bite-sized objects, and of course, put them in their mouths. When your home is free of choking hazards, you’ll eliminate much of the risk of choking.
Register for our certification course for Infant CPR to learn more about the specifics of CPR and choking relief for infants. We hope you never have to use your training, but if you do, you’ll be glad you have it.