What should I do if a baby is choking?

This information applies to babies aged under one year old. For information relating to adults and older children, see What should I do if someone is choking?

In babies, choking often happens if they put small objects in their mouths, which then get stuck. It can also be caused by food getting stuck in the airway.

Back blows for babies under one year old

If the baby is able to cough, encourage them to carry on doing this to help clear the object. If the baby is distressed and unable to cry, cough or breathe, back blows (firm slaps on the back with the heel of the hand) may help.

  • Lie the baby face down across or along your lap, with their head lower than their bottom.
  • Support the baby’s head from underneath by placing your thumb on one side of their jaw and one or two fingers on the other side. This is to make sure their airway is open.
  • Be careful not to press on the neck or the soft skin under the lower jaw.
  • Give up to five firm slaps to the baby’s back between their shoulder blades with the heel of your hand. (The heel is between the palm of your hand and your wrist.)
  • Pause between each blow to see if the blockage has cleared. Do not poke your fingers into the baby’s mouth unless you can see and reach the blockage, as you may push it further in.
  • If the airway is still blocked, give up to five chest thrusts (see below).

Chest thrusts for babies under one year old

In babies under one year old, chest thrusts are used in an emergency to clear a blockage from their airway. Important: do not use abdominal thrusts with babies under one year old.

  • Lie the baby face up along your arm, and lay your arm along or across your lap to support it.
  • Support the back of the baby’s head by cupping the lower part of your hand.
  • Find the breastbone, and place two fingers on the lower half of it.
  • Give five sharp chest thrusts (pushes) with your fingers, compressing the chest by about a third of its depth.
  • Check whether the blockage has cleared. Do not poke your fingers into the baby’s mouth unless you can see and reach the blockage, as you may push it further in.

If the baby’s airway is still blocked after three cycles of back slaps and chest thrusts, you should:

  • Dial 999 for an ambulance immediately, putting the phone on speakerphone so your hands are free. Do not leave the baby.
  • Continue with the cycles of back slaps and chest thrusts until help arrives.

Complications after a baby chokes

Even if the object has come out, get medical help. Some of the material that caused the blockage can sometimes remain and cause complications later on, or the baby may have been hurt during attempts to resuscitate them. You should take the baby to A&E, an NHS walk-in centre or your GP if it’s during GP hours.

Further information:

    Page last reviewed: 06/11/2015

    Next review due: 06/11/2017