How to Prevent and Handle Choking Incidents

It’s an exciting milestone—your baby is eating real food! It’s also a scary transition since so many parents fear their child will choke. Now is a critical time to learn how to handle a choking incident. Carolyn McClain, MD, Medical Director of The Urgency Room has helped us put together a list of top tips for preventing and handling a choking incident.

How to Prevent & Handle Choking | Twin Cities Moms Blog

How To Prevent Your Child From Choking

Keep it Small

Supervising meal times is always a good idea—especially if you’re feeding more than one child at a time. Most parents know to cut up their child’s food into pieces that are easy to chew and swallow. But did you know it’s typically an older sibling who hands a piece of food to a younger one? You serve different meals to a toddler than you do a nine-month old baby, and if the toddler is feeling generous, your baby could be at risk of choking.

Keep it Out

Some foods to avoid giving your little kids altogether are grapes, carrots, and hot dogs. These items are classic choking hazards because once lodged in the throat, they’re very hard to get out. If your child needs to be intubated (have an air tube placed in their throat), the doctors may not be able to get past those foods. Something like a piece of popcorn will melt in the throat and can be more easily pushed down to make room for intubation if necessary.

If you decide to feed your younger children grapes, carrots or hot dogs, make extra sure they’re chopped into very small pieces. It’s also a good idea to continue chopping up these same foods and other meats—such as steak or chicken—for your older children.

Keep it Clean

Foods aren’t the only items children choke on. Babies and toddlers crawling around or playing on the floor can easily pick up something and put it in their mouths. We’ve seen kids choke on pieces of popsicle sticks and party balloons. Those small rubber party balloons are especially dangerous for babies and toddlers. If your child picks one up, starts chewing on it, and swallows the balloon, it’s almost impossible to get it out. We recommend keeping your floors clean and the balloons either out of the house or somewhere out of reach.

What to Do if Your Child is Choking

First, Dr. McClain recommends that all parents take a class in basic CPR. That way you’ll get the chance to learn and practice the techniques to use in an emergency. In the meantime, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

If your child can’t speak, cry or cough, she is choking and needs help right away. If she can cough, something may be partially blocking her airway that needs to be removed.

The technique to use for children under 12 months old is different than the diaphragm thrust, commonly known as the Heimlich maneuver. Hold your child face down on your arm with his chin in your hand. Make sure your child’s head is lower than his chest. Using the palm of your hand, firmly pound your child on the back between the shoulder blades three to five times.

If that doesn’t work, flip him over and press two fingers on his diaphragm, the soft spot located right between the bottom of his ribs. Thrust your fingers on this spot three times.

If still needed, turn your child over again, and pound on the back. Repeat alternating until your child can breathe again.

For an older child, you can perform the diaphragm thrust by getting behind her and wrapping your arms around to press your fist into the soft spot between her bottom ribs. Place your free hand over the hand touching the diaphragm to help you apply pressure and firmly press in several times.

If none of these techniques work, call 911 immediately.


How to Prevent & Handle Choking | Twin Cities Moms BlogThe Urgency Room (UR) is a state-of-the art medical facility specializing in the treatment of acute injuries and illnesses in adults, children, and infants. Staffed with board-certified emergency physicians, the UR is prepared to handle it all. If you need immediate medical attention and don’t need an ambulance – come to The Urgency Room.

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