Infant CPR: What You Need to Know

It’s the scenario no parent wants to picture: your infant starts choking. And unfortunately with babies, the instinct is to jam everything into their mouths. The downside? They aren’t born knowing how to eat so chewing and swallowing takes time to learn. This means that instinctively a baby doesn’t know how to avoid the hazard of choking. There are many things you aren’t prepared for with motherhood and this is one of them. If the worst-case scenario were to ever happen, you need to know what to do. Here’s how to prevent your baby from choking, and how to perform infant CPR in the event your baby needs saving.

 

Common Baby Choking Hazards

In the early stages of your baby’s life, from birth to about four months, the only hazards for choking involve things that you are giving him. This includes breast milk or baby food; saliva and mucus can also be problematic. If you notice your baby choking on a liquid, grab a bulb syringe and suck out the liquid to free his airways. In most cases, that should do the trick.  

When babies start crawling, all bets are off. An unfortunate truth about babies is that they learn about their environment by, you guessed it, their mouths. It’s not uncommon for babies to stick anything and everything in their mouths, including toys, buttons, chunks of foods, coins, rocks, etc. And these items are the perfect size for blocking the airways. Another choking hazard for babies is putting too much food in their mouths. They aren’t yet aware of the dangers of having too much to swallow at once and it’s so common for them to cram their little mouths full of everything they can get their hands on. Then you have the dangerous scenario of not being able to swallow and choking as a result.


What You Should Do If Your Baby Starts Choking

If you haven’t already, schedule a class on baby choking and infant CPR. All logical thinking goes out the window when you’re faced with a crisis. And if you’ve never done CPR on an infant, it would be very difficult to learn while you’re talking to a 911 dispatcher. The American Red Cross has options for in-person training and online classes based off your zip code.

Here’s what to do if your baby starts choking:

  • The first question with choking is to try and determine whether the blockage is partial or complete. You’ll know he’s choking by gagging, coughing, difficulty breathing or turning red or blue.
  • If the blockage is partial, that means air is still getting in and out of your baby’s lungs. Your first instinct may be to put your finger in his mouth to sweep out the foreign object and this is a HUGE no-no. The risk of pushing the object further down your baby’s throat is too great. Instead, try to refrain from intervening and let the baby cough it out.
  • If coughing doesn’t do the trick, or you notice that it’s a complete blockage (no air getting to his lungs) you’ll need to take action. Signs it’s a complete blockage include his face turning red, he’s unable to cry or make noise and his chest has pulled inward. Have someone call 911 and then try to get the object out through back blows and chest thrusts. The Heimlich maneuver should not be attempted on babies as it could damage the organs in their upper torso.
  • To perform a back blow, start by laying baby face down on your forearm and use your hand to support his head. Keep his chest higher than his head. Using the heel of your hand, give his back five firm pats between his shoulder blades.
  • To perform chest thrusts, make sure your baby is lying face up on your forearm with his skull supported by your hand. In this instance his head should be lower than his chest. Place two or three fingers in the center of his chest and compress his breastbone about 1.5 inches. Perform five more of those same chest thrusts.
  • Roll your baby from his back to his front by alternating between five back blows and five chest thrusts until the object is ejected or he coughs it out. If that doesn’t work and he still doesn’t cry, breathe or becomes unconscious, you’ll need to carefully lower him onto a flat, firm surface and start giving him infant CPR.

How to Perform CPR on an Infant

If your previous efforts have been unsuccessful or you’re positive the baby is unconscious, you’ll need to perform CPR. Follow these steps to perform infant CPR:

  • Lay your baby on a flat, firm surface (the floor works great) and start with rescue breaths. Tilt his head back and make sure his chin is lifted up. Completely cover his nose and mouth with your mouth and blow in for about one second. Do two of those breaths quickly one after the other. If the baby doesn’t revive, move on to chest compressions.
  • Use two or three of your fingers and position them in the middle of your baby’s chest. Push only about one inch deep, way lighter pressure than you use on an adult. Push fast as the ideal infant CPR ratio is 100 compressions per minute. If you can, think about the pace of the Bee Gees song “Staying Alive” and hum it as you’re doing chest compressions. The American Heart Association says this song tempo is the idea rate for pushing.
  • After you’ve pushed 30 times, open your baby’s mouth and look for the object. If you can see it and can get it removed without obstructing the baby’s breathing, grab it out. If your baby is still unconscious, repeat the CPR (two rescue breaths followed by 30 chest compressions) until rescuers arrive. The second your baby starts breathing on his own, stop doing infant CPR.

It goes without saying that everyone who cares for your baby should know how to perform infant CPR. The American Red Cross has a First Aid app that gives step-by-step instructions for performing back blows, chest thrusts and infant CPR in case of any emergency where you need to perform life-saving measures.  


How to Prevent Babies from Choking

The ideal solution is to prevent choking from happening in the first place. And luckily, in almost all cases choking for babies is preventable. Keep all small toys as well as tiny household items out of your baby’s reach. This includes marbles, deflated balloons, bouncy balls, button batteries, market caps and loose change. Abide by this rule of thumb: if it can fit through a toilet paper tube, it’s possible for a baby to choke on it. In addition, to prevent instances of choking during eating always keep baby’s food cut into pea-sized bites so he can swallow safely. Supervise eating at all times and refrain from feeding him solids until around 4 to 6 months. And avoid high-risk foods such as hot dogs, nuts, hard veggies, seeds, popcorn and grapes. Here’s a helpful guide: does the food require molars? If so, it’s too tough for your baby to eat. Soft foods like grapes and hot dogs can be given to your baby as long as the pieces are cut into the aforementioned pea size maximum.

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