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Top 5 DO NOT’S for choking management

Top 5 DO NOT’S for choking management

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Top 5 DO NOT’S for choking management

As a first aid trainer, choking is the most commonly requested topic by the parents that I teach.

The fear of choking is absolutely massive for parents. And understandably so... choking is a medical emergency that requires immediate first aid. If someone is choking and need assistance from you, they will be silent, turning blue or pale, and be really panicked or distressed.

But the GOOD NEWS is that choking is easy to identify, and there are SO MANY WAYS that we can make the food we serve much safer (think cutting grapes, chopping sausages lengthways etc). And once you know how, treating a choking situation by starting off with up to 5 back blows really does work.

But as a first aid trainer (and my time as a mum!) there are some really common choking misconceptions that I hear from parents all the time. With choking, like all of these scary topics, knowledge really is power.

So let’s chat to you about 5 things to NOT do when it comes to choking (and what to do instead).

So baby, child, or big person... here's a list of the don'ts:

  • Do not perform a "blind sweep"
  • Do not go straight in for the "Heimlich manoeuvre"
  • Do not slap on the back if they are able to cough 
  • Do not treat gagging as though it is choking
  • Do not panic

What do you think of these? Have any surprised you?

Here's a bit more info on each of the above, and what to do instead!

 Do not perform a "blind sweep"

Have you heard of a blind sweep? “Blind sweep” is just a fancy way of describing putting one or two fingers in the casualty's mouth and using a sweeping motion to see if you can dislodge or scoop anything out.

The reason why we advise against this is because the reality is... you will probably just push the food/ item down even further.

So do not be tempted to put your fingers in your baby’s mouth.

 What to do instead: Have a look in the mouth, to see if you can see the object or piece of food, and then go straight into the first intervention for a choking- which is to deliver up to 5 back blows.

 Do not go straight in for the "Heimlich manoeuvre"

That incredible movie, Mrs Doubtfire, generally means that performing this manoeuvre is the first thing that anyone tries to do when someone becomes silent and is choking.

 So should you perform the Heimlich manoeuvre straight away?

 As my cheeky four-year-old would say… “No way, Jose.”

 "Abdominal thrusts", as we actually call them in the UK, create a lot of abdominal pressure. For this reason we would never do this to a baby under the age of 1.

 What to do instead: Even with a choking child or adult, the very first intervention from us will be giving up to 5 back blows. Back blows are your winning ticket.

 Do not slap on the back if they are ABLE to cough.

That horrible sound your baby makes when they are coughing? That is actually a good thing.

When someone is coughing, they are doing the best they possibly can to dislodge the obstruction themselves. If you slap or pat them on the back, you could catch them at the wrong time, and this slap could push the obstruction further down. This might make things worse for them.

 What to do instead: Encourage them to cough. Stay with them. Remain calm.  Be ready to intervene if the situation progresses to something worse.

 Do not treat gagging as though it is choking

Gagging is okay. Once more for the grandmothers reading this! GAGGING IS GOOD.

Gagging is the best protection against choking we have. Yes, it looks and sounds nasty, but it is actually better than any intervention we can do. Choking that needs intervention is different to gagging. Much different.

Know the difference between gagging and choking.

 What to do instead: Encourage them to gag. Stay with them. Remain calm.  Be ready to intervene if the situation progresses to something worse.

Do not panic

The (sad) reality is that anyone anywhere can choke on anything. The great news is that you can help keep your children safe by preparing food appropriately, knowing what foods/ items are higher risk, supervising your children when they eat, and by having the confidence on how to identify and manage a choking episode.

But I totally get it. This is scary stuff. But panicking will not serve you right here and right now.

What to do instead: Stay calm. Shout for help and deliver up to 5 back blows. Take a deep breath. You have got this.


If you are looking for expert advice and more knowledge surrounding baby/toddler First Aid and Choking Sammy has some fabulous online courses to get you feeling confident. Bobbin and Bumble Customers get 10% discount using the code BOBBIN10 at check out! 

Baby First Aid Course * 

Get Confident with Choking * 


Sammy from Happy Hearts First Aid is a first aid trainer, mum of 3 and former nurse. She believes that first aid training for parents must be fear- free and confidence- building.

She delivers her signature Baby First Aid via an online, on demand course so that parents can learn at a time that suits them from the comfort of their own home.

For parents who are particularly worried about choking, her course Get Confident with Choking would be the best fit. This online, on demand course aims to replace choking fears with choking FACTS and arms parents with confidence so they can actually enjoy mealtimes.

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