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It is a scary and anxiety-laden moment for any parent - seeing your child struggling to breathe and gasping for air in-between choking.

While choking in children is not something you can necessarily prevent, knowing what action to take during a choking incident could save a life. 

What to do if a child is choking

Firstly, 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: 

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

What to do if a baby is choking:

  1. Lay the infant face down along your arm, with the head lower than the rest of the body.
  2. Give five 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.
  3. If the object doesn’t come out, turn the baby on his/her back. While supporting the entire baby, place two fingers on the middle of the chest.  Give up to five hard chest thrusts.
  4. 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.
  5. If the object does not come out in the first few seconds, Stanton says it is essential 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.