Babies and toddlers put everything in their mouths, which is a normal part of development and exploration, but also puts them at an increased risk for choking. Since choking can be a life-threatening emergency, staying calm is essential -- and the best way to ensure that you keep your cool is to know what to do in advance. That's why you and any other adults who will be caring for your baby should take a basic course in first aid and CPR. To find a class, contact your local chapter of the American Red Cross or American Heart Association. You can also watch our video on infant CPR here.
If your child appears to be choking but has a strong cry or a forceful cough (signs of little or no blockage), encourage him to cough, which may dislodge the object. If your child can't breathe, cough, or cry, makes high-pitched noises while breathing in, turns blue, or loses consciousness, you should begin first aid and have someone dial 911 immediately. Here's what to do for a baby under 12 months, but bear in mind that this is no substitute for actual class instruction.
1. Lay your baby facedown along your forearm, with her head lower than her chest. Support her head by placing your hand around her jaw, using your thigh for leverage.
2. Give five quick back blows between the shoulder blades, using the heel of your free hand.
3. If the object still remains stuck, turn her faceup, using your thigh or lap for support. Support her head, which should still be lower than her chest. Place two fingers on the middle of her sternum (breastbone) and give five quick downward thrusts (your fingers should be one finger-width below an imaginary line between your baby's nipples).
4. If your baby is still choking, repeat the back blow and chest thrust sequence until help arrives.
If your baby loses consciousness, give infant CPR for one minute (call 911 for instructions). If you can see the object blocking the airway, try to reach in and grab it. --Julie Evans
Originally published in American Baby magazine, July 2004. Updated 2009.