First aid for children - Choking

Child standing choking and receiving back blows

Babies and children are continually looking to learn through investigation and play. As they learn, they develop an understanding of what can hurt them and may pick up some injuries on the way. Learning first Aid skills will enable you to deal with a range of injuries or health issues they may receive. In our series of articles, we will look at some of the common conditions parents fear and providing some basic tips.


An airway obstruction, commonly known as choking, is a common fear of parents as they worry it will lead to a loss of life. However, the majority of choking in children occur during play or eating when people are there to intervene. Simple steps can clear an airway.


Choking can be mild or severe. In mild cases the person can talk, breath and cough past the obstruction, but in severe cases, they will not be able to do any of these things. Following eating or play with small items, you may see a sudden onset where they are:

  • Unable to make noise
  • Looking scared
  • Pointing to the mouth or grabbing the throat
  • Unable to breath
  • Turning blue around the lips
  • Going unconscious

Action for child

If they are able to cough effectively, encourage them to cough until the item is gone from the airway. Monitor them throughout.

If they are not able to cough effectively:

  1. Provide back blows

    Lean them forward and give up to five blows between their shoulder blades with the heel of your hand. Check after each blow to see if it has been effective.

  2. If back blows fail, try abdominal thrusts.

    Stand behind the child and place your arms around their abdomen. Make a fist and place it between their navel and breast bone. Clasp the fist with your other hand, pulling in and upwards sharply.

    If the item is not dislodged, repeat up to 4 more times.

  3. Repeat the cycle of back blows and abdominal thrusts until the obstruction is cleared or they become unresponsive, at which time you start CPR.

If the obstruction will not clear after 1 cycle, you must call an ambulance.


If you would like to learn more, attend one of our first aid courses covering children and infants, for example, Level 3 Paediatric First Aid.

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