Babysitting: Dealing With Choking

Choking can be a life-threatening emergency.

A child might be choking if he or she:

  • is gasping for air
  • cannot talk, cry, or make noise
  • begins to turn blue in the face
  • grabs at his or her throat
  • waves his or her arms and seems panicky

What to Do

If a child is choking:

  • Call 911 or have someone else call.
  • If you are trained, perform the Heimlich maneuver immediately. If you are not trained in the Heimlich maneuver, wait for medical care to arrive.

If a child starts choking and becomes unconscious and stops breathing:

  • Call 911 immediately.
  • Start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) immediately. If you are not trained in CPR, wait for emergency medical care.
  • Do not pat the child on the back.
  • Do not reach into a child's mouth to try to remove the object.

If the child is able to breathe and talk while gagging or coughing, then the airway is not completely blocked. Keep an eye on the child if this happens — most likely, he or she is having a coughing attack and will be fine afterward.

But if the child had a serious choking attack and continues coughing or wheezing, or has difficulty swallowing or breathing, call 911 immediately and then the child's parents.

To help prevent from choking:

  • Never feed kids younger than 4 years old foods that are easy to choke on, such as nuts, raw carrots, popcorn, and hard or gooey candy. Cut foods like hot dogs and grapes into small pieces.
  • Make sure that kids sit down to eat, take small bites, and don't talk or laugh with their mouths full while eating.
  • In a house with babies and toddlers, pick up items off the floor that might be dangerous if swallowed. These include deflated balloons, coins, beads, pen caps, and batteries. Keep toys or gadgets with small parts out of reach.

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: October 2010

Kids Health

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

© 1995-2016 The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth. All rights reserved.