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What to do if a baby is choking

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Is my baby choking or gagging?

There’s a difference between choking and gagging. Gagging is a normal reflex as your baby learns to chew and swallow solid foods. Gagging is loud. Your child’s skin may also look red when they’re gagging.

Choking is quiet. Your child’s skin may begin to look blue (cyanosis) when they’re choking, with their gums, inside their lips, or their fingernails also looking  blue.

Gagging

Your baby may gag when you introduce solid foods – this is very normal. This is because they are learning to regulate the amount of food they can chew and swallow at one time. They will eventually learn to cope with different textures and harder foods. If your baby is gagging, this is what may happen:

  • your baby’s eyes may water
  • they might push their tongue forward (or out of their mouth)
  • they might make a retching movement, or they may vomit to bring the food forward in their mouth

Preventing choking

Babies and young children like to put things in their mouths, so could easily swallow small objects such as buttons, plastic toys or button batteries. These objects can partly or completely block their airway, meaning they might not be able to breathe properly. If you think your child has swallowed something, you should seek urgent medical help.

Prevention is key, so get down to your child’s level to check what they can see and reach. You’ll also need to do this when you visit new places. Read more about home safety here.

It’s dangerous to prop a baby up when bottle feeding, if they begin to choke they will not be able to push the bottle away.

Babies have narrow throats, so once they’ve moved on to solid foods, make sure you supervise their eating, being careful to cut up foods like grapes, tomatoes and other large portions to reduce the risks of choking.

The Child Prevention Accident Trust also has lots of advice to prevent choking and other accidents.

What to do

If a baby under one year old is choking, they may not be able to cry, cough or breathe. They may also show signs of distress and have a red puffy face.

For what to do if your baby’s choking, take a look at this video from St John Ambulance:

If this method isn’t working, call 999 for emergency help. Repeat the five back blows and five chest blows (shown in the video above) until help arrives.

If your baby becomes unresponsive, you will need to start CPR. Here’s a guide by St John Ambulance on how to give a baby CPR:

Even if the object has come out and your child is still conscious, you should seek medical attention in case part of the object is still left behind. They might also have been injured by the procedure.

Useful links

NHS – How to stop a child from choking

Page last reviewed: 27-10-2021

Next review due: 27-10-2024