How to Help a Choking Child

One minute you and your child are laughing at the dinner table. The next minute the child is choking. What should you do?

  1. Be sure the child really is choking. If she is coughing forcefully or talking, leave her alone; she's not choking. A choking child will gag or make a high-pitched sound.

  2. Ask your child, "Are you choking?" If she nods yes or cannot speak, let her know you can help. Most important: Don't panic! Your child needs you to stay calm.

Treating children (ages 1 to 8 years old)

Have someone call 911 while you try the steps listed below. This person can keep 911 informed of progress and have an ambulance on the way if you are not successful at dislodging the obstruction.

  • Stand behind the child. Wrap your arms around the child's waist.

  • Make a fist with one hand, thumb side in. Place your fist just below the chest and slightly above the navel.

  • Grab your fist with the other hand.

  • Press into the abdomen with a quick upward push. This helps to make the object or food come out of the child's mouth.

  • Repeat this inward and upward thrust until the piece of food or object comes out.

  • Once the object comes out, take your child to the doctor. A piece of the object can still be in the lung. Only a doctor can tell you if your child is OK.

  • Since someone is already on the phone with 911, tell him or her immediately if the child passes out.

Treating infants (less than 1 year old)

If a choking infant can no longer breathe, cough, or make sounds, have someone call 911 immediately. Next, place the baby face down on your forearm. Your arm should be resting on your thigh. With the heel of your other hand, give the child five quick, forceful blows between the shoulder blades.

If this fails, turn the infant on her back so that the head is lower than the chest. Place two fingers in the center middle of the breast bone, just below the nipples. Press inward rapidly five times. Continue this sequence of five back blows and five chest thrusts until the foreign object comes out or until the infant loses consciousness (passes out). If the infant passes out, tell 911 immediately. Never put your fingers into the infant's mouth unless you can see the object. Doing so may push the blockage farther into the airway.