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A Choking Baby Is Often Silent. How to Tell the Signs and Keep Your Baby Safe
  • Apart from crying, babies have no way of letting their parents know about any aches or pains they may be feeling. That is why choking in babies is especially scary — according to the British Red Cross, a baby who is choking “will be unable to cry, cough, make any noise or breathe.”

    What causes choking in babies?

    According to an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) statement in 2010, choking is a leading cause of injury and death in children ages 3 years old and below in the United States. That’s because their small airways are easily obstructed. Babies are still trying to master the ability to chew and swallow food (which starts at 4 months old), and they are not yet capable of coughing forcefully enough to dislodge an airway obstruction.

    Babies are naturally curious and like to explore their environments. At 6 months, one of their developmental milestones includes bringing objects to their mouth. Unfortunately, this can lead to infant choking.

    Health conditions can also increase the risk of choking, according to Mayo Clinic. Children who have swallowing disorders, neuromuscular disorders, developmental delays, and traumatic brain injuries have a higher risk of choking compared to other kids.

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    What are the most common causes of choking in babies?

    Newborns can choke on things like milk, mucus or vomit. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of choking in babies are the highest for infants under 1 year old. Food is the most common cause of infant choking, making up 50 percent of the incidents.

    However, there have also been terrifying stories of children choking on toys, grapes, and even baby snacks. Certain types of behavior during eating — especially eating while distracted — can also cause choking in babies.


    Signs and symptoms that a baby is choking

     It goes without saying that parents should be more attuned to their babies’ needs. “If a baby is suddenly unable to cry or cough, something is probably blocking her airway, and you’ll need to help her get it out,” says BabyCenter.

    According to Medline Plus, other danger signs to watch out for include:

    • Bluish skin color
    • Difficulty breathing — ribs and chest are pulled inward
    • Loss of consciousness (baby is unresponsive) if the blockage is not cleared
    • Inability to cry or make much sound
    • Weak, ineffective coughing
    • Soft or high-pitched sounds while inhaling
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    What to do when a baby is choking

    Both BabyCenter and Medline Plus advise not to perform first aid (yet) if the baby is coughing, gagging, or has a strong cry — it means her airway is only partially blocked. Strong coughs and cries can help push the object out of the airway.

    However, if the baby isn’t able to cough up the object, it’s time to call for help (911 is the Philippines’ national emergency hotline) and perform first aid. Watch the video and follow the steps below as advised by the British Red Cross:

    1. Give up to five back blows.

    Back blows create a strong vibration and pressure in the airway, which can be enough to ease the blockage and help the baby breathe again. Hold the baby face down along your thigh with their head lower than their bottom (make sure you support their head while holding them in this position). Hit them firmly on the back between the shoulder blades up to five times. If this action does not dislodge the blockage, move on to the next step.

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    2. Give up to five chest thrusts.

    Chest thrusts squeeze the air out of the baby’s lungs and may help ease the blockage. Turn the baby over so they are facing upwards. Place two fingers in the middle of their chest just below the nipples. Push sharply downwards up to five times.

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    3. Call emergency services if the blockage does not dislodge.

    Continue with cycles of back blows and chest thrusts until the blockage dislodges, help arrives, or the baby becomes unresponsive. Our national emergency number is 911.

    Never squeeze a baby’s tummy or perform a Heimlich maneuver on a baby. Abdominal thrusts are used to help choking children and adults only. If performed on a baby, it might damage their internal organs, which are fragile and still developing.

    Avoid putting your fingers into baby’s mouth if you cannot see the object causing the blockage. You might risk pushing the blockage further down and damaging the back of baby’s throat, which could swell and cause further harm, says the British Red Cross.

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    How to prevent choking in babies

    Since food is one of the most common causes of choking, parents should ensure that the food baby consumes do not pose a choking risk to their baby. This goes the same for toys and other objects. Here are some important tips to remember.

    Introduce solid food at the right time.

    Babies should be given complementary food (food other than breast milk or formula) at 6 months of age, as per guidelines from the World Health Organization. If you introduce solid food before your baby has the motor skills to swallow, you are making her more vulnerable to choking.


    Avoid high-risk foods.

    Some food to keep away from children 4 years old and below include:

    • Hotdogs
    • Chunks of meat or cheese
    • Grapes
    • Raw vegetables
    • Fruit chunks
    • Hard food like seeds, nuts, popcorn, and hard candy
    • Peanut butter
    • Marshmallow
    • Chewing gum
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    Cut up your baby’s food when necessary.

    For babies starting on solids, food must be soft or mushy and easy to swallow. Food for older babies should be no larger than half an inch.

    Supervise mealtimes.

    Make sure your child is not distracted while eating. As your baby gets older, teach your child to chew well and swallow her food before talking. Don’t allow her to crawl, walk, run, or play while eating.

    Pay close attention when older kids are around.

    “Many choking incidents are caused when an older child gives a dangerous toy or food to a younger child,” says the AAP.

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    Screen your babies’ toys.

    Don’t allow your baby or toddler to play with latex balloons, small balls, marbles, and toys that contain small parts. Follow age guidelines when buying toys and inspect your children’s toys from time to time to make sure they do not become choking hazards.

    For toddlers, Dr. Victoria Ang, a developmental pediatrician shares a guide on what toys to give your child. “As a rule of thumb, use the cardboard tube found in the middle of a roll of toilet paper as a gauge. If a toy is small enough to fit in it, it’s too small to give to a toddler,” she told SmartParenting.com.ph.


    Keep hazardous objects out of reach.

    Common household objects may cause choking in babies. These include:

    • Coins
    • Small balls or marbles
    • Small hair bows, barrettes, and rubber bands
    • Pen or marker caps
    • Button-type batteries
    • Refrigerator magnets
    • Pieces of dog food
    • Buttons

    Situations that require emergency first aid can come at any moment, so preparation is key. Click here for more instructional videos for lifesaving first-aid techniques, including one to prevent choking in babies. Remember: your baby’s safety should always be a priority.

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