We all hope we’ll never be put in the position of having to save a baby’s life, but it could happen. Babies can and do choke on food and toys, slip under the water in the tub or a pool, and get caught in drawstrings and curtain cords.
This step-by-step guide explains the basics of first aid for choking and CPR, but please don’t rely on it as your sole source of information. Set aside a few hours to take an infant and child CPR course to learn and practice the proper techniques. These techniques differ depending on the age of the child, and doing them improperly can be harmful.
To find a class in your area, visit the Red Cross website or call 800-733-2767 (800-RED-CROSS).
The following instructions are for babies younger than 12 months old. To find out what to do when an older child is choking or needs CPR, see our illustrated guide to CPR for children age 12 months and older.
Step 1: Assess the situation quickly.
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. She may make odd noises or no sound at all while opening her mouth. Her skin may turn red or blue.
If she’s coughing or gagging, it means her airway is only partially blocked. If that’s the case, let her continue to cough. Coughing is the most effective way to dislodge a blockage.
If the baby isn’t able to cough up the object, ask someone to call 911 or the local emergency number while you begin back blows and chest thrusts (see step 2, below).
If you’re alone with the baby, give two minutes of care, then call 911.
On the other hand, if you suspect that the baby’s airway is closed because her throat has swollen shut, call 911 immediately. She may be having an allergic reaction – to food or to an insect bite, for example – or she may have an illness, such as croup.
Also call 911 right away if the baby is at high risk for heart problems or if you witnessed the baby suddenly collapse.
Step 2: Try to dislodge the object with back blows and chest thrusts.
First do back blows
If a baby is conscious but can’t cough, cry, or breathe and you believe something is trapped in his airway, carefully position him face-up on one forearm, cradling the back of his head with that hand.
Place the other hand and forearm on his front. He is now sandwiched between your forearms.
Use your thumb and fingers to hold his jaw and turn him over so that he’s facedown along your forearm. Lower your arm onto your thigh so that the baby’s head is lower than his chest.
Using the heel of your hand, deliver five firm and distinct back blows between the baby’s shoulder blades to try to dislodge the object. Maintain support of his head and neck by firmly holding his jaw between your thumb and forefinger.
If the object does not come out, place your free hand (the one that had been delivering the back blows) on the back of the baby’s head with your arm along his spine. Carefully turn him over while keeping your other hand and forearm on his front.
Then do chest thrusts
Use your thumb and fingers to hold the baby’s jaw while sandwiching him between your forearms to support his head and neck. Lower your arm that is supporting his back onto your thigh, still keeping the baby’s head lower than the rest of his body.
Place the pads of two or three fingers in the center of the baby’s chest, just below an imaginary line running between his nipples. To do a chest thrust, push straight down on the chest about 1 1/2 inches. Then allow the chest to come back to its normal position.
Do five chest thrusts. Keep your fingers in contact with the baby’s breastbone. The chest thrusts should be smooth, not jerky.
Repeat back blows and chest thrusts
Continue alternating five back blows and five chest thrusts until the object is forced out or the baby starts to cough forcefully, cry, breathe, or becomes unresponsive. If he’s coughing, let him try to cough up the object.
If the baby becomes unresponsive
If a baby who is choking on something becomes unconscious, lower the baby to the ground and start CPR (see below). After each set of compressions and before attempting rescue breaths, open the baby’s mouth, look for the blockage and remove it if you can.
Never put your finger in the baby’s mouth unless you actually see a blockage. If you can’t see it and you put your finger in his mouth, you might accidentally push the blockage deeper into his throat. If you can see a blockage, remove it with your little finger.
Continue the sequence until the child revives or help arrives.
How to perform CPR
What is CPR?
CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation. This is the lifesaving measure you can take to save a baby who shows no signs of life, meaning he is unconscious and not breathing.
CPR uses chest compressions and rescue breaths to make oxygen-rich blood circulate through the brain and other vital organs until the child revives or emergency medical personnel arrive. Keeping oxygenated blood circulating helps prevent brain damage – which can occur within a few minutes – and death.
Infant CPR isn’t hard to do. Follow these steps:
Step 1: Verify that the infant is unresponsive and not breathing.
Shout to get the infant’s attention, using her name. If she doesn’t respond, tap the bottom of her foot and shout again while checking for normal breathing. (Look to see whether her chest is rising, and listen for breathing sounds.)
If the infant doesn’t respond and is not breathing or is gasping, have someone call 911 or the local emergency number. (If you’re alone with the baby, give two minutes of care as described below, then call 911 yourself.)
Swiftly but gently place the baby on her back on a firm, flat surface. Stand or kneel next to her.
Make sure she isn’t bleeding severely. If she is, take measures to stop the bleeding by applying pressure to the area. Don’t administer CPR until the bleeding is under control.
Step 2: Give 30 chest compressions.
Place one hand on the infant’s forehead. Place the pads of two fingers in the center of his chest, just below the nipple line. Compress the chest by pushing straight down about 1 1/2 inches, and then let the chest return to its normal position. Push hard and push fast. Compressions should be smooth, not jerky.
Give compressions at the rate of two per second. Count out loud: “One and two and three and…”, pushing down as you say the number and coming up as you say “and.” (The song Staying Alive has the rhythm you’re shooting for.)
Step 3: Give two rescue breaths.
Note: If you’re uncomfortable giving rescue breaths, giving chest compressions only is better than nothing.
Open the airway by putting one hand on the baby’s forehead and two fingers on his chin and tilting his head back to a neutral position. Make a complete seal over the baby’s nose and mouth with your mouth.
Take a normal breath and blow into the baby’s nose and mouth for about one second, looking to see if the chest rises. If the chest does not rise, retilt the head and ensure a proper seal before giving a second rescue breath.
If the baby’s chest doesn’t rise, his airway is blocked. Open the baby’s mouth, look for the blockage and remove it if you can. Continue to check the mouth for an object after each set of compressions until the baby’s chest rises as rescue breaths go in.
Continue giving sets of 30 compressions and two rescue breaths until:
- You notice an obvious sign of life.
- An AED (automated external defibrillator) is ready to use
- You have performed approximately 2 minutes of CPR (5 sets of compressions and rescue breaths) and another person is available to take over compressions.
- You have performed approximately 2 minutes of CPR (5 sets of compressions and rescue breaths), you are alone with the baby, and you need to call 911 or the designated emergency number.
- EMS personnel take over.
- You are too tired to continue.
- The scene becomes unsafe.
Even if the baby seems fine by the time help arrives, a doctor will need to check her to make sure that her airway is completely clear and she hasn’t sustained any internal injuries.