What should I do if a baby is choking?

If a baby is choking, you need to assess the situation quickly to see how best you can help.

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?

Choking happens when a person’s airway suddenly gets blocked so they cannot breathe. Their airway can be partly or fully blocked. In babies, choking is often caused if they put small objects in their mouths, which then get stuck. It can also be caused by food getting stuck.

Choking in babies under one year old

A baby who is choking will be distressed and may be unable to cry, cough or breathe.

  • Lie the baby face down along your forearm or thigh, with their head low. Support their head.
  • Give up to five firm slaps to the baby’s back between the shoulder blades with the heel of your hand. (The heel is between the palm of your hand and your wrist.)
  • Stop after each slap to check if the blockage has cleared. Look inside the baby’s mouth and remove any obvious blockage. Do not poke your fingers into the baby’s mouth unless you can see and reach the blockage. You may push it further in.
  • If the airway is still blocked, give up to five chest thrusts (see below).
  • Stop after each thrust to check if the blockage has cleared.

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. Do not leave the baby - take him or her with you to the phone 
  • continue with the cycles of back slaps and chest thrusts until help arrives

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 along your forearm on their back, with their head low. Support their back and head.
  • Give up to five chest thrusts. Using two fingers, push inwards and upwards (towards the head) against the baby’s breastbone, one finger's breadth below the nipple line.
  • Check if the blockage has cleared after each thrust, by looking inside the baby’s mouth and removing any obvious blockage. 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. 

Complications

Once the baby’s airway is cleared, some of the material that caused the blockage can sometimes remain and cause complications later. If the baby still has a persistent cough or difficulty swallowing, they need to see a health professional urgently. 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: 06/11/2013

Next review due: 05/11/2015