How to prevent and treat choking

Small children learn about their environment by putting things in their mouths. It only takes a few seconds for a child to pop something small into their mouth, which could cause them to choke. That’s why it’s important to be alert to what children are playing with or eating. Children can also suffocate easily, so be aware of what is around their face — especially when they’re sleeping.

  • Every year, more than 100 children under five die from choking and suffocation.
  • Choking happens most frequently to babies between the ages of five- to 18-months.
  • Keep all small objects out of reach babies at this hand-to-mouth stage of development.
  • Never give small, round or hard food to children under five years of age, e.g. peanuts, sweets and grapes.
  • Always cut food into chunks.
  • Encourage children to sit down when eating.
  • Always supervise children when they are eating or drinking from a bottle.
  • Always remove small bones when preparing chicken and fish.
  • Don’t give children dried peas and beans to play with.
  • Never leave a baby to drink a bottle unsupervised. The child could vomit, inhale the milk and choke.
  • Babies should not be given any food they cannot chew properly. Large chunks are easily inhaled into the windpipe.
  • Teach older children not to give hard biscuits or sweets to a young baby.
  • Keep all small items out of children’s reach, e.g. safety pins, coins, buttons, beads, magnets, button-sized batteries, crayon fragments, flat balloons and marbles.
  • Always pick up small items from the floor.
  • Beware of dummies that are too small, can fit fully into a baby’s mouth, and which can separate into smaller parts.
  • Keep small toys with small parts away from children until they are old enough to play with them.
  • Do not attach a dummy to a string around the baby’s neck.
  • Make sure dangling cords like electrical or window cords are out of reach.
  • Do not allow children to play with cords and ropes while unsupervised.
  • If a child appears to be choking, don’t panic. The normal cough reflex will generally expel the object.
  • If the child is small, hold them up by the heels and give them a firm slap on the back.
  • If this is not successful, immediately seek medical attention or seek expert advice from a first aid organisation.
  • Do not slap the child hard on the back while they are sitting up. This may make the child gasp and suck the object further into the air passage.
  • Do not try to remove the object with your fingers. This will only push it further down.
  • If an older child is choking, stand behind him or her. Put your arms around their waist. Find the spot in the chest halfway between the waist and lower ribs. Gently press the clenched fist of your left hand as far as you comfortably can. Firmly clasp your right hand over your clenched fist and give short, sharp “hugs” pushing inwards and upwards as far as you can. Repeat if necessary. Air pressure will pop out the blocking object.
  • If you suspect your child has inhaled an object or pushed beads or nuts up his nose or into his ears, seek medical aid as soon as possible.
  • If a child develops a chronic cough or wheeze, consider the possibility that he may have inhaled a foreign body into his air passage and take him to the doctor immediately.
  • If a child can’t breathe spontaneously after the object is removed, apply mouth-to-mouth resuscitation

If the child is unable to cough, talk or breathe:

  • Position the child face down on your arm or lap.
  • Support the head.
  • Slap the child firmly between the shoulder blades five times.

If the child is unable to cough, talk or breathe:

  • Use the Heimlich manoeuvre (abdominal thrusts).