Time seems to stop when your baby is choking, but the seconds keep ticking away — and with every one, the life-threatening consequences loom larger. Choking and suffocation together form the third leading cause of death for children under 1 year of age, says the National Safety Council. Because there's no time to stop and think, everyone who cares for your baby should know exactly how to handle this scenario.
In an older child or adult, choking tends to be fairly obvious. The person might put his hands to his throat or shoot a panicked look to those nearby. But your baby's distress sometimes isn't so obvious. A choking infant might have unusually soft or high-pitched breathing, the council says, or a quiet cough. Trying to cry and being unable to make sound might also signal that your baby is choking. Turning red, blue or purple and struggling to breathe are other clear signs.
When you realize your baby is choking, shout to someone nearby to call 911. Do not put your fingers into the mouth of a choking infant. Instead, advises the American Red Cross, lay her against your forearm with her belly down and her head supported in your hand. Tilt your arm so her head is lower than her chest and strike between her shoulder blades with your other hand. Give five firm blows, then turn her over. Continuing to support her head and neck with one hand, press two or three fingers of your free hand against the center of her chest just below the nipple line and push down five times. Repeat these steps until the baby coughs up the object or begins breathing.
If your infant becomes unconscious while you're alternating back blows and chest thrusts, lay her down on a firm surface, says the Red Cross. If you're alone and 911 hasn't yet been called, make the call now. Next, open your baby's mouth and remove any foreign objects you see. If she still isn't breathing, tilt her head back and place your mouth over her nose and mouth, sealing your lips to her skin. Give her two one-second breaths. Remove your mouth and give 30 quick chest compressions, pushing her breastbone down about 1 1/2 inches each time. Check the mouth for a foreign object again, then repeat the whole process. Continue until she begins breathing or help arrives.
Your infant's airway is small and her curiosity is large. A stray paper clip can become a choking hazard when she slips it into her mouth, so checking for small objects in your baby's environment should be routine. Her toys and clothes should be free of buttons, beads and anything else removable. Every food you give your baby should be mashed or cut into pea-size pieces. Avoid giving your baby peanut butter, advises registered dietitian Roberta Duyff, and don't feed her in a moving car. Never let your baby eat unsupervised.