Dr Bella

Choking in babies - what to look out for

written by Dr Bella Smith

  1. #choking
  2. #infantconcerns
  3. #dr
  4. #baby
  5. #illness
  6. #infant
  7. #weaning

As part of Dr. Bella's series on Infant concerns she tells us what to in the event of choking in babies and what to look out for, in order toprevent it from happening.

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Choking is when something, often food or a small object, blocks the airway so that the person or baby cannot breath. Babies can often be very congested and this means they can have thick snot in their upper airways that can also block the airways. Choking can happen suddenly, quietly and can be fatal within minutes. Knowing how to recognize when someone is choking and knowing how to act quickly to help them, can be life saving. These basic life support skills are simple to learn and should be taught to every parent and I believe, to all school aged children, so that they are equipped to help others or to raise the alarm.


We are advised to start weaning our babies at 6 months of age but in reality this age can vary. All babies are different, some babies take to it very quickly and effortlessly, whilst others seem to take ages and find it difficult. Some babies are ‘baby-led’ and go straight onto solids, whilst others are given purees or baby food. Some babies seem to always choke on their food and as a mum you watch and hold your breath with each meal! I was forever upending my son when he was being weaned as he seemed to choke on everything! There is no right or wrong, but the basis is the same.

  1. Keep small objects and toys away from your little ones to prevent them from picking them up and putting in their mouths

  2. Never leave them alone to eat and be on high alert when they put food in their mouths.

  3. ‘High risk foods’ like grapes should be cut up to avoid the risk of choking.


When an adult is choking they will initially be embarrassed and will try to hide it from others. This can be fatal if they get up and leave the room as no one will be around to help them. If you think someone is leaving a table because they are choking, you should follow them to check they are ok. Also you can easily ask an adult ‘are you choking?’ and they can gesticulate to you to confirm yes or no. I had to help a bridesmaid at a wedding many years ago after she choked on a canapé, thankfully she was ok.

With babies it is different:

  1. They will cough, a lot.

  2. They may go red in the face

  3. Their eyes may water and they will look panicked or in distress.

This is why it is so important to watch whilst babies eat as it can often be silent.


We are born with a strong gag reflex and most of the time a child who is choking will gag and then cough forcefully. If this happens allow them to sit up or lean forward and encourage them to clear their airways themselves. You can help by rubbing or tapping them on the back. If however an object has become stuck fast in the airway the child will need urgent help. Pick the child up, and using gravity as your aid, bend him forward over your lap. Then firmly tap him on the upper back up to 5 times or until the object comes out. If the airway does not clear you must call 999 stating that a baby is ‘choking’ and start basic life support.

Baby choking

St John’s Ambulance have recently had a great advert for choking babies called the ‘The Chokables’ and you can see it on their website


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