When a child is choking, it’s easy to panic. Their bodies are so small and seem so fragile that you may become reluctant to assist them because you are afraid of making the situation worse.

To save a life, it’s essential to act quickly to help them breathe again. One of the most successful procedures for removing an obstruction from a child’s airway is the Heimlich Maneuver. Today, we’re going to learn about what the Heimlich Maneuver is and how you can effectively perform it on a child without risking more damage.

What is the Heimlich Maneuver?

The Heimlich Maneuver is a procedure used to treat upper airway obstructions by dislodging foreign objects. The term originated with Dr. Henry Heimlich, who first described the procedure in 1974.

Why is it important to learn the Heimlich Maneuver for children/toddlers?

If you have ever been around a child for an extended period of time, you know that they love to put things in their mouths – especially things that do not belong there. This can result in choking if these objects slip into the child’s upper airway, preventing them from breathing. The same can be said for food because kids do not always chew food properly before attempting to swallow.

When you learn how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver on a child, you can make sure that they can get past this silly stage of life and grow into a curious (yet cautious) adult in the future.

What are the signs of choking in a child?

Some people may not be sure whether or not the child they are supervising is choking. You need to act quickly before the item gets lodged in the airway even further so pay close attention to the following signs so you know when to intervene:

  • Violent coughing. When a child coughs, it should pass quickly. If the child coughs for a long period of time and it gets more violent, this is a sign that they are struggling to clear their airway.
  • Being unable to cough, speak, cry, or breathe. A child who is truly choking and in need of immediate assistance will not be able to speak, cry, breathe, or cough at all.
  • A high-pitched sound while breathing in. This means that the child is struggling to breathe and their airway is severely restricted.
  • A pale or blue-tinted face. When the body is deprived of oxygen, the skin pales and turns blue. This is a sign that the child has been choking for a while and the situation is critical.
  • The child is clutching at their throat. Children do not often understand how to clear their airway and they begin to panic and grab at their throats. Adults do this sometimes, too. It is a reflex response to choking.

How do you perform the Heimlich Maneuver on a child?

After you determine that a child is choking and in need of the Heimlich Maneuver, follow the steps below to clear their airway.

  • With the child in an upright position, bend them forward while supporting their waist with one hand.
  • Give the child five back blows with your free hand. Be sure to give the blows directly between the shoulder blades with the heel of your hand.
  • If this does not dislodge the object, put both hands together and make a fist at the child’s abdomen.
  • Place the fist right above the child’s belly button.
  • Use fast, quick motions thrusting inward and upward. Five abdominal thrusts should be sufficient. Note that you should not lift the child off of the floor while doing this.
  • If this does not dislodge the object, cycle between five back blows and five abdominal thrusts. If the child can breathe again, it’s time to stop. If they become unconscious or if help arrives, move on to a different method or let the professionals take over. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation may be necessary.

How do you prevent a child from choking?

While the Heimlich Maneuver is a useful tool when a child/toddler is choking, it should not be something that you have to perform often. To prevent choking in children in the first place and possibly save a child’s life, follow these simple guidelines.

Don’t let young children play with small objects.

Toy packaging has choking warnings for a reason. Small children should not be trusted to play with small objects. Too often they become curious and put these objects in their mouths. It is quite easy for these small items to get stuck in their trachea.

Be sure that all food is safe for the child to eat.

Small children choke on food items more often than anything. Their food should be soft and small enough to be easily chewed and swallowed without blocking the airway. Bananas, mashed potatoes, and other mushy foods are great for toddlers! Avoid giving them large pieces of meat, hard candy, or other harder foods until they are older as these foods can increase the risk of choking.

Supervise children while they eat or play.

Watching children is a full-time job and you should always supervise them while they eat and play. When you leave them to their own devices, young kids are likely to do risky things and get themselves into situations that they can’t easily get out of. If they do begin to choke and no one is around, you may not find them until it’s too late. It only takes six minutes without oxygen for the brain to begin to die. If the brain dies, there is no hope of the child ever regaining consciousness or living without the help of life support machines.

Any death is a tragedy but a child’s death hits even harder. A little supervision goes a long way toward preventing it from ever coming to pass. If you need to use the Heimlich Maneuver on a child, remember to use just enough force to dislodge an object without hurting them. Children are a good deal more fragile than adults but anything you do to help more than hurt is important! Follow the Heimlich Maneuver guidelines carefully and you could save a life.

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