Whilst you shouldn’t be alarmed, you should equip yourself with as much information as possible in order to reduce the chances of choking. You should also learn how to help if your baby does choke. You should make sure you’re aware of the signs of choking, which are different to the signs of gagging.
According to a survey by St John Ambulance in the UK, 40% of parents have witnessed their own baby choke, yet over 80% of these parents had no idea what to do in such a situation. This is an alarming statistic and certainly a good incentive to book yourself on a first aid class!
So, here is a comprehensive guide that should keep you and your baby safe:
A learning process
Even though eating solids is natural and instinctive behaviour to us, it is – like walking – a process that babies must learn gradually. It can be helpful to remember that your baby is learning to regulate the amount of food they can chew and swallow at a time.
Gagging is part of the weaning learning curve for babies. Don’t be alarmed if your baby is gagging, it is a normal reflex as they learn to eat solids and liquids. The physical effect of gagging is to:
- Bring the food back into the mouth
- Chew it further
- Consume it once more but in a smaller amount
It happens whether you follow the spoon-fed weaning method or baby-led weaning.
The signs of gagging are:
- Watering eyes
- Tongue hanging out of the mouth
- Retching movements or even vomiting
Gagging is often a noisy affair. It can be frustrating to see the food you’ve prepared for your baby be spat and retched out, but remember this is a normal and healthy part of the weaning process.
Choking occurs when food blocks the airway. Rather than going down the food pipe (oesophagus) – it goes down the breathing tube (trachea) instead. Usually when we eat or drink and swallow – the epiglottis covers the top of the trachea (wind pipe) and stops food from entering it. Sometimes, particularly if talking, laughing or crying whilst eating, the flap of the epiglottis is unable to protect the trachea and enables food to enter.
The body’s reflex if this happens is to cough, to eject the food. However, if the airway becomes completely blocked the person is unable to cough and is silent. This is extremely serious and without help, they could die.
To prevent choking:
- Cut food into very small pieces
- Puree or blend foods, especially at the beginning of the weaning process
- Discourage older children from sharing food with babies
- Supervise children and babies when eating together
These tips will help you prepare safe meals for your baby. There are many online meal planners you can use to help you feed your baby both healthily and safely.
- Cut small round foods (grapes, cherry tomatoes) into small pieces. Sticks or batons rather than circles is a good rule to follow.
- Peel fruit, vegetables and sausages.
- Remove pips or stones from fruit.
- Remove bones from meat or fish.
- Avoid hard foods such as raw carrot, apple, whole nuts and peanuts.
- Ensure your baby is sitting up in their high chair and always supervise their meal times.
Choking – the signs
Babies have sensitive gag reflexes and often appear to struggle when trying new food textures and this can be frightening. The majority of the time they manage to clear the obstruction themselves, repositioning them with their head lower than their body can help.
Keep as calm as you can as babies quickly pick up on panic and this can make things worse. If they are able to cough, encourage them to do so. If they are quiet and struggling to breathe, help immediately.
Choking – how to help
- Stay as calm as you can
- If they are able to cough, reposition them to see if they can clear it themselves
- Have a quick look in the baby’s mouth and carefully remove anything obvious. NEVER blindly sweep inside the baby’s mouth with your fingers as it can cause damage and push the obstruction further down
- Lay the baby downwards across your forearm, supporting under their chin
- With your hand hit the baby up to 5 times firmly between their shoulder blades
- Check after each back blow to see if the obstruction has cleared
- If still choking; lay the baby on its back across your knees, head downwards. Place two fingers in the centre of their chest at the nipple line, and give up to five, firm upward chest thrusts
- If the baby is still choking, call 112 and continue giving baby five back blows, alternated with five chest thrusts, until help arrive
- If the baby becomes unconscious start CPR immediately
Even better sign up for a First Aid Class where you can actually practice these skills!
LifeFirst provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. LifeFirst is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information. It is strongly advised that you attend a First Aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency.