Learn first aid for a child who is choking
A child who is choking may be clutching at their chest or neck and won’t be able to speak, breathe or cough.
1. Give up to five back blows: hit them firmly on their back between the shoulder blades. If back blows do not dislodge the object, move on to step 2.
Back blows create a strong vibration and pressure in the airway, which is often enough to dislodge the blockage. Dislodging the blockage will allow them to breathe again.
2. Give up to five abdominal thrusts: hold the child around the waist and pull inwards and upwards above their belly button.
Abdominal thrusts squeeze the air out of the lungs and may dislodge the blockage.
3. Call 999 if the blockage does not dislodge.
Continue with cycles of back blows and abdominal thrusts until the blockage dislodges, help arrives or the child becomes unresponsive. If you can’t call 999, get someone else to do it.
Watch how to help a child who is choking (1 minute 11 seconds)
Common questions about first aid for a child who is choking
How hard should the back blows I give be?
You should change the force of the back blows depending on the size of the child. Be much gentler with a smaller child than with a larger child. The force you use to deliver the back blows should also be relative to your own strength. The back blows need to be hard enough to dislodge the blockage.
How will I know that the blockage has definitely cleared?
On most occasions, you will see it coming out of their mouth and the child will start to breathe again. You can also ask them if they are feeling better and they will let you know whether the blockage has cleared or not.
Is it a good idea to give a choking child a glass of water or something to eat?
No, it’s not a good idea as it will not dislodge the blockage and may make the situation worse by causing a further blockage.
What happens if the blockage goes down into the lung rather than coming out of the mouth?
This can be dealt with in hospital. It’s not ideal, but the important thing is that the airway is clear so the child can breathe again.
Should I try to pull the object out with my fingers?
Do not put your fingers into their mouth if you cannot see an object. You risk pushing any blockage further down or damaging the back of the throat, which could swell and cause further harm.
However, if you can clearly see an object in a child's mouth and you are able to pluck it out safely with your fingertips, you could do so.
What should I do if a child becomes unresponsive and stops breathing?
If a child is choking, should I hold them upside down by their feet?
No, this is not effective. You may cause further injury if you happen to drop them. The action of tipping them upside down may also move the object further down their throat.
How do I help a baby who is choking?
Find out how to help a baby who is choking.
How do I help an adult who is choking?
Find out how to help an adult who is choking.
Email us if you have any other questions about first aid for a child who is choking.
Test your knowledge with our First aid app quiz