Choking in Children :: What You Need to Know

We have partnered with Children's of Alabama to bring you this valuable information.

We have all heard horror stories about young children choking, and for many of us, this becomes our worst fear in parenting. But did you know choking, while not completely preventable, is much more rare when parents or caregivers follow a few helpful tips? Did you know that when there is a choking incident, the outcome is normally a happy one if parents or caregivers know what to do? We are thrilled to partner with Children’s of Alabama to bring you these tips on preventing choking as well as what to do in a true emergency situation.

For this article, we had the opportunity to interview Children’s of Alabama’s expert on choking in children, nurse Leslie Brown. Ms. Brown is the Safe Kids Coordinator for the hospital, and she specializes in helping families create safe environments for their children. Safe Kids has a multitude of resources for parents, so check out the site for any questions you may have on water safety, car seats, and more.

Working to prevent choking

Even the most diligent among us can face a choking situation, but there are several things we can do to reduce the risk. Parents with children under two know all too well that everything goes in the mouth as part of exploration. Choking isn’t just about meals but often about small items found in the home or out in public. Did you know anything that can fit through a toilet paper tube is considered a choking hazard for kids under three? This might seem crazy, but the rule is that if it can slide down a toilet paper roll, it can get stuck in a young child’s throat. Anything in this category needs to be kept out of a toddler’s reach.

Helpful tips

  • Children should eat in a seated position.
  • Avoid laughing and playing when there is food in a child’s mouth.
  • Do not leave a young child unsupervised while eating, even for a short time.
  • Cut small foods that are round (think grapes) or cylindrical (think hot dogs) both lengthwise and crosswise.
  • Avoid hard candy, popcorn, and nuts for children under five.
  • Be very cautious about what snacks you give your child in the car, and make sure you can see him if he will be eating.
  • Check your house after having company to make sure no small items have come in. Things can fall out of guests’ pockets, purses, etc.
  • If you have older children, teach them what babies can and can’t have, and limit what is played with while a baby is crawling around.

True choking

Let’s talk about true choking vs. what we sometimes think is choking. If a child is coughing, he is not choking. When there is coughing, stay with the child, but give his body a chance to do what comes naturally, which is either swallowing or getting an item back up. Do not smack a coughing child on the back, but do not walk away.

If you notice any of these things, the child is truly choking and needs immediate help. This is now an emergency situation, and quick action is vital!

  • Opens mouth but can’t breathe or make noise
  • Gasps or wheezes (versus coughing)
  • Puts hands to throat for universal sign of choking
  • Turns blue or pale

Children under one

  • Alternate 5 back blows and 5 chest thrusts.
  • For back blows, get in a seated position. Place the infant face down on your arm, and rest your arm on your leg for more stability. Using the heel of your hand, push five times between the shoulder blades.
  • For the chest thrusts, carefully turn the infant over, supporting the head and neck. Using two or three fingers, press the middle of the chest 1 1/2 inches, allowing it to come back to its normal position between thrusts.
  • Repeat back blows and chest thrusts until the item comes out, the child can cry, or there is coughing.
  • If the child loses consciousness, call 911 immediately.

Children over one

  • Get on your knees behind the child, and explain that you’re going to help him. (This is important.)
  • Perform the Heimlich maneuver, making a fist above the belly button and performing an inward and upward motion. 
  • This is not a gentle procedure, but do not be worried about hurting the child. In a true choking situation, this is highly effective in dislodging an item so the child can breathe again. Do not be intimidated, and act quickly.
  • If the child loses consciousness, call 911 immediately.

To sum things up:

  • Do not be afraid.
  • Take the safety tips offered.
  • Act quickly if there is an emergency as lives can be saved in most incidents.


Thank you to our partners at Children’s of Alabama
for all you do for Birmingham families!


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