What Should I Do If My Child Is Choking?


Small children explore the world with their mouths and are vulnerable to choking on food, toys, bathwater and detachable items of clothing. Unfortunately this means that no matter how careful you are when it comes to baby-proofing your surroundings, there is always a risk of your child choking.

This is why it is essential for all parents, grandparents and relatives of babies and children to know what resources to turn to if you are faced with this potentially life threatening situation. In this step-by-step guide we will talk you through the different stages of choking and where you can get the best advice for each age group.

Assess the Situation

The first thing to do when you suspect your child may be choking is to calmly and quickly assess the situation. A sudden fit of coughing does not necessarily mean that your child is choking, however, depending on the type and severity of the cough- it could mean that something has become lodged in their airway.

If your child is coughing loudly or hoarsely then there is no reason to act other than to encourage them to keep on coughing and stay with them. If the cough does not seem to be dislodging anything, it is silent and the child is struggling to breathe, this is most likely a sign that they are choking.


Mild Choking


If your baby is choking mildly, they will still be able to make some vocal noise such as crying or coughing. This means that their airway is only partially blocked. If this is the case, you may be able to remove the blockage yourself. For guidance and advice on how and when to perform this procedure, please visit the NHS Choices website.



If you suspect that your child over the age of one is choking then you should first try to encourage them to keep coughing and try their best to spit the object out. If they are able to speak and breathe then they are mildly choking and should, with encouragement, be able to cough out the choking hazard.


Severe Choking

If an infant is severely choking, the above steps will not be sufficient to dislodge the blockage in their windpipe. Children who are severely choking will not be able to make any noise, breathe or cry. Their lips, skin or nails may also change colour and become blue or purple. The following actions can help save a severely choking child:


Back Blows


The first course of action usually adopted when a baby is choking is a procedure known as back blows. This action works by forcing air out of the lungs from behind and helping the lodged object to come out.

The NHS website provides detailed advice on exactly when and how to administer back blows to a baby.


Back blows for children work the same way as they do for babies. The only difference is that the person giving the back blows does not need to support the child’s head and they can be administered while the child is standing up and leaning forward.


Chest Thrusts

The last step that is usually taken when issuing first aid to a severely choking child are chest thrusts. This is when the person administering the first aid moves the child from the back blow position and lays them flat on their back. You can find more details about when and how to perform this procedure here.


Abdominal Thrusts

Abdominal thrusts are when the person performing first aid stands or kneels behind a choking child, wraps their arms around the child’s waist, and makes a quick, firm thrust inwards and upwards.

Choking occurs when air is prevented from entering the windpipe and getting into the lungs. This manoeuvre works by placing enough pressure on the chest to force the foreign body stuck in the throat to pop out of place, so airflow can be resumed.

To find out when and how you should use this procedure, click here.


Next Steps

If none of the above measures are successful in stopping your child from choking, you should immediately call for help. If you are alone, ring 999 and put the phone on speakerphone so you can listen to instructions while keeping your hands free.

It is essential to never leave the child alone at any time.


More Information on First Aid

The ability to perform First Aid in an emergency is an important skill that many people, especially parents of small children, may benefit from at some time.

If you would like more in-depth information about what to do in a situation such as choking, you may be interested in signing up for one of the many First Aid courses available in East Berkshire.