If forceful coughing does not work, try the Heimlich manoeuvre. Picure: Wikimedia Commons

Panic and distress are the go-to emotions for many parents but the key is to stay calm and act fast, writes Marchelle Abrahams.

They may seem harmless to you but simple household things can turn into dangerous objects, especially when you have a curious toddler who explores with his hands and his mouth.

From loose buttons to hard sweets, everything can be a potential choking hazard.

Two-year-old Reuben Botha was rushed to the emergency room at Netcare Krugersdorp Hospital after an object became lodged in his throat.

Thanks to quick-thinking staff at the hospital, they were able to remove the object and after 2 days he was given the all-clear to go home.

“Witnessing a child choking can be very distressing, causing many parents or caregivers to panic and in some instances completely freeze up if they don’t know what to do,” said attending doctor Hennie Smit.

This is why he emphasised the need for everyone to become familiar with what actions to take should they be present during a choking incident.

It’s hard to keep calm when seeing someone in distress, especially when it is your own child, but David Stanton, Head: Clinical Leadership at Netcare 911, says this is exactly what you should be doing.

“Speed is of the essence in any choking situation. Being able to dislodge a blockage quickly greatly minimises the risk of further complications. However, never try to remove a foreign object unless you can actually see it, as you can run the risk of pushing it further into the airway,” he advised.

Parents Doret and Rian Botha with their son Reuben. Picture: Supplied


What to do if a baby is choking

  • Lay the infant face down along your arm, with the head lower than the rest of the body.
  • Give 5 hard slaps on the baby’s back. You should do this with the intention of shaking the object loose, so don’t be too gentle.
  • If the object doesn’t come out, turn the baby on his/her back. While supporting the entire baby, place 2 fingers on the middle of the chest. Give up to 5 hard chest thrusts.
  • Keep repeating black slaps and chest thrusts until the object comes out, or keep checking in the mouth to see if you can see the object. If you can see it, pull it out.


If the object does not come out in the first few seconds, Stanton advises to call for professional help. “If at any time, the baby or child becomes unresponsive, place them gently onto the floor. Begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). When giving breaths, take a moment to look in the mouth and see if you can see the object, and remove it if possible. You will need to continue CPR until help arrives.”

What to do if a child is choking

  • Try to encourage them to cough. Often the child will forget to try this, and forceful coughing may successfully expel the object
  • If this doesn’t work, do the Heimlich manoeuvre


How to do the Heimlich manoeuvre:

  • Stand or kneel behind the child.
  • Wrap your arms around them, and make a fist with one hand. Place your fist against the stomach, just above the belly button.
  • Place your other hand over your fist. Position your body up against the child.
  • Give a series of 5 hard forceful squeezes. You are trying to force the air out of the child, in an attempt to dislodge the object.
  • Check in the mouth to see if you can see the object. If you can see it, pull it out.
  • If the thrusts don’t work, then do a series of back blows:
  • Have the child positioned with the head as low as possible.
  • Hit the child forcefully between the shoulder blades. Repeat this 5 times. Keep repeating Heimlich thrusts and back blows until the object is released or check if you can see the object to pull it out.