Infant Choking Hazards and CPR: Learn the dangers and life-saving techniques

By Deanna Greene, RN St. Luke’s Infant Safety Class Instructor | St. Luke's

Choking is a leading cause of injury and death among infants, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help be prepared as a parent. By becoming more aware of potential choking hazards and receiving training in infant CPR, you can help keep your little one safe.

Common Choking Hazards

Before going over the steps of infant CPR, it’s important to first cover common choking hazards.

FOODS

Avoid foods that are:

  • Round (like hard candy or grapes)
  • Firm (like hot dogs or steak)
  • Sticky (like peanut butter)

 

Cut food into bite-sized pieces and closely supervise your child when they’re eating. It may be helpful to teach your children the habit of only eating when they are seated.

TOYS

Follow the age guidelines for all toys. Be mindful if your child is playing where toys for older children are present.

HOUSEHOLD OBJECTS

Certain items around the house tend to be more problematic than others. These include:

  • Coins
  • Marbles
  • Buttons
  • Bottle caps

 

It’s always a good idea to watch your child closely as they play and explore. Don’t hesitate to get down on their level and observe their environment to identify and remove any objects that could be hazardous to them.

 

Clearing an infant’s airway

If an object does block your child’s airway, you’ll need to help remove it. Infant skeletal systems are not strong enough to withstand the same technique used on adults who are choking, commonly called the Heimlich. The proper way to clear an infant’s airway is to rest your arm on your leg and lay the child face down on your forearm with your hand cupping their chin.

To clear their airway, give four strong blows to the child’s back with the heel of your hand. This may need to be repeated to dislodge the object causing the block.

 

CPR

This technique can be used to help any child who appears unresponsive, whether something is blocking their airway or not.

  1. Check for signs of life. You know your child better than anyone. If they are typically awake at this time of day but now appear to be sleeping or listless, check in on them. Scratch their bare foot, make a loud noise or shout their name. If you don’t see a reaction or startle response, then the infant may be in danger. Other warning signs to look for are a pale or bluish tint to skin and gasping instead of steady breathing.
  2. Call for help. If there’s someone nearby, shout for help. Tell them to call 911 while you administer CPR. If you are alone and have a cell phone, call 911 on speaker while you begin to administer CPR. If you are alone and don’t have immediate access to a phone, begin administering CPR and complete a full two-minute cycle before pausing to rush to a phone and call 911 before immediately returning to continue CPR.
  3. Open the infant’s airway. Set the infant on a firm surface, preferably the floor, and remove their shirt so that you have a clear view of their chest. Place one hand on the infant’s forehead, and the fingers of your other hand on the bony part of their jaw, then tilt the infant’s head back and lift their chin at same time. Avoid soft tissue so you don’t push on their airway. An infant’s head is large relative to their body size, so it can be harder to open their airway. If you feel like you won’t be able to get breaths in, place a blanket, pillow or coat under the infant’s shoulders. This will lift their chest higher and help to open the airway.
  4. Begin compressions. Center your pointer and middle finger in the middle of the infant’s chest just below the nipple line. Push straight down (an angled push could damage the infant’s ribs) to about one-third of the depth of their chest and release. Allow the chest to come back to full height before pressing again. Do this a total of 30 times in a span of around 12 seconds. Pressing too fast is better than pressing too slow.
  5. Rescue breathing. After you’ve done 30 compressions, pause and deliver two rescue breaths. To do this, cover the infant’s nose and mouth with your mouth and puff out a breath. As you do this, watch the infant’s chest. If you see their chest rise with your breath, they have received enough air. Be careful to not overfill their lungs, as your lungs can hold much more than theirs. Give a total of two slow puffs, pausing between them to allow the infant’s chest to settle.
  6. Repeat. Continue administering a cycle of 30 compressions and two rescue breaths until the infant responds (cries, opens eyes or begins moving) or emergency help arrives.

 

Administering CPR on an infant can be both physically and emotionally exhausting. If there is someone else in the room, show them the proper technique and take turns administering CPR.

While this blog is a good introduction, there’s no substitute for classroom training. St. Luke’s free Infant Safety Class is offered once a month and covers infant CPR, as well as proper installation of your car seat.

For dates, times and locations of this course, visit slhduluth.com/InfantSafetyClass.

 

St. Luke’s Birthing Center is located in Duluth, MN, with St. Luke’s clinics in the surrounding region, including Superior, WI. To schedule a tour of St. Luke’s Birthing Center, call 218.249.5605.

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