How to Save a Child's Life

No one thinks it will happen to them, but choking is a concern for everyone. Babies and young children are especially susceptible to the danger, since they have smaller teeth and narrower airways than adults, as well as a tendency to put objects in their mouth.

What You Can Do: Choking First Aid

The Red Cross office in your area, as well as your local hospital, may offer first-aid trainings for parents and caregivers. Being prepared can save your child's life.

When a child is choking, shout for help and have someone call 911 while you perform the Heimlich Maneuver as detailed below.

Choking first aid for a baby under one year old:

  • Put a choking infant across your lap with her head facing down and angled toward the ground. Hit her back with the palm of your hand five times to try to dislodge the object.
  • If this doesn't work, move the baby so she is facing you and cradle her head in your lap.
  • Place two fingers on her breastbone right below her nipples and push down with five quick motions, making a chest compression between 1/3 and 1/2 of the chest's depth.
  • Alternate each of these two steps (hitting the back five times, then compressing the chest five times) until you dislodge the stuck item or the child becomes unconscious or blue. Then call 911 immediately if this hasn't been done already.

Choking first aid for a toddler or child one year old and up:

  • Get behind the child (he can be standing, sitting, or lying down) and put your arms around his waist. Use one hand to make a fist and put the side with the thumb against his stomach (below the breastbone).
  • Cover your fist with your other hand and give it a forceful jerk or thrust. Keep repeating this thrusting motion until you dislodge the object or the child loses consciousness. Then call 911 immediately if this hasn't been done already.
  • If the child is unconscious, lie him down and open his jaw. Use your thumb to hold down his tongue. If you can see the object in the airway, reach in and sweep it out carefully with the side of your finger, without getting it stuck more. (You shouldn't do this with a child who is conscious, since you run the risk of making it worse.)
  • If your child isn't breathing, angle his head back with his chin lifted up and pinch his nose with your fingers while you cover his mouth with yours and take two deep breaths (holding each for 1-1/2 to 2 seconds long).
  • If this doesn't work, perform the Heimlich again, using your fist and the heel of your hand again to thrust 6 to 10 times between the naval and the ribcage.
  • Then repeat the other steps, alternating the Heimlich, jaw sweeps and breathing into his mouth until medical help arrives to take over.

Prevention Matters

Of course the best way to treat choking is to avoid it in the first place. Always supervise your child while she's eating, and cut her food into small pieces (1/2 inch or less). By taking precautions, hopefully you'll never have to use these lifesaving steps.


American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)

American Red Cross

United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

United States National Library of Medicine/Medline Plus