Choking is one of the most common causes of death in small babies. The very inquisitive nature of the babies, exploring and testing their surroundings as they crawl exposes them to various choking hazards. On their expedition in the home or in the garden, they tend to pick up small things, poke at them, put them in their mouth, taste, feel and ultimately swallow them. This poses a very dangerous situation, considering what is being swallowed and secondly, if it gets stuck in the throat it hampers breathing and obstructs oxygen flow. So what exactly is choking, how to identify and prevent choking incidents? Read below to know more about infant choking.
What Is Infant Choking?
Choking technically implies that the windpipe has been blocked and is causing difficulty in breathing. Your throat consists of two pipes:
- Food pipe (oesophagus)
- Wind pipe (trachea)
The food and drink that we intake goes down the food pipe to the stomach. The air/oxygen we take in goes through the wind pipe to the lungs. Choking is a result of an object of food getting stuck in the trachea, blocking the airway thus making it difficult to breathe. Babies are more vulnerable to choking because they have small airways which can easily get obstructed; though most often, the food or object partially blocks the trachea, and is coughed out. The smart mechanism of your body regulates that food goes down the food pipe only by means of epiglottis.
If small food particles or water droplets slip to the wind pipe, then this causes coughing. Coughing is the body’s immediate response to expel the foreign particles from the incorrect pipe. If coughing fails, then the oxygen cannot pass down completely or in sufficient quantity from windpipe to the lungs, causing breathing difficulties. This results in choking. Sometimes, developmental delays, swallowing difficulties or neuromuscular disorders or injuries can also cause choking.
What Are The Common Causes Of Infant Choking?
Food, as is obvious, is the most common reason of infant choking. Other than food, small objects like buttons, parts of toys, cloth or accessory embellishments, and distraction during feeding can result in infant choking. As parents, you will need to pay special attention to the following to protect your kids from choking:
- Foodstuffs: The teeth are not completely developed and therefore it can be expected that your child would rush to swallow food rather than chewing. Food pieces, not completely chewed can block the air pipe and cause choking. Gooey substances such as peanut butter, caramel, nougat may also pose choking hazards. Be extremely cautious with nuts, candy, gums, popcorn, seeds, and pieces of soft foods
- Foreign objects: Small round, cylindrical or slim objects can easily slip down the throat and lodge there. Safety pins, coins, marbles, batteries, jewelry, bottle caps etc all pose potential risk of choking to babies
- Plastic and rubber articles: The baby can wrap plastic wrappers, carry bags around himself or swallow stretchable rubber articles like balloons which are difficult to move. Erasers, and broken parts of toys that are chewy are also attractions to babies
- Covers: Babies may easily suffocate from insufficient oxygen supply when their face is covered with blanket or they are left in cars with windows pulled up. Stuffed toys too pose a danger
What Are The Symptoms That My Baby Is Choking?
A child could have swallowed something and may be choking if the following symptoms are observed:
- He is unable to breathe or make any noise
- He is gasping for air
- Is turning blue and looks panicked
- Is making guttural noises
- Is waving his arms and holding his throat
- Has become unconscious
If the oxygen and blood supply to the heart and brain is obstructed just even for 4 minutes may cause severe damages and even death. In small babies, this can cause serious respiratory emergencies and even heart attack. Therefore this condition requires vigilance and immediate remedy.
Common Infant Choking Hazards
Whatever you do, you may never be able to childproof your house completely. You must, however, put in a good effort by getting down on your knees, literally, and look around the house from a child’s perspective. Babies are known to go places which adults never thought existed. Do keep a keen eye for the below objects:
- Small parts of toys
- Ornamental gel balls, marbles
- Foodstuffs likecandies, nuts, biscuits, chocolates like Gems
- Stationary items like paper clips, drawing pins, erasers, stapler pins etc.
Why Does My Baby Choke While Breastfeeding?
Oversupply of milk or an incorrect feeding posture may lead infants to choke while breastfeeding as their small mouths cannot handle a lot of milk in one go. An overactive letdown reflex, alongwith a foremilk/hindmilk imbalance, can lead to your little one choke, gag, gulp or gasp while breastfeeding. The way to deal with this is to regulate the supply to your baby’s needs. You can also try other positions, and ensure that latching is correct. You can also express some milk before putting your baby to your breast to ease the letdown.
Bottle-fed Baby Choking
If your baby struggles to find breath during bottle-feeding, you need to ensure that you are feeding him properly. Always attach a nipple recommended for your baby’s age. Make sure your baby’s head is slightly elevated when you bottle feed him. If the baby tilts his head, pull out the nipple and adjust the head before resuming the feeding. Always allow the nipple to fill with milk first before your baby takes it in his mouth. Hold the bottle at a right angled position. If you observe your baby gagging or gulping, the nipple flow is probably more than he can handle. You will have to change the nipple with the one that flows at a proper rate. Sit your baby up, allowing him to swallow the milk and breathe normally before resuming feeding. Never overfeed the baby if he stops sucking, spits, or forces the nipple out. Forcing the baby drink more milk than he wants can also result in choking.
How To Prevent Infant Choking?
Whether it is a baby, a toddler or a school going child, you need to ensure safety of highest standards for your little wonders. As parents you must:
- Keep an eye on your infant while he is eating or drinking. Sometimes the drink can go in the wind pipe while laughing or sucking through straw. The best way to eat and make merry is by not talking too much between the mouthfuls
- Provide maximum soft food, in appropriate chewable sizes
- Chop fruits and salad to pea-sizes, if possible mash them. Never leave the seeds unattended
- Avoid food such as popcorn, small sucking candies, whole cherries or berries as they pose greater risk of being sucked in and lodging in the wind pipe. If you have to offer them to your child, make sure you supervise
- Keep wires, cables, earphones away from the reach of young children as they may get tangled during their play and possibly choke
- Stow away small things such as medicines, ornamental pebbles, coins, beads, pins well away from your kid’s reach
- Discard old and broken toys, especially the ones that have nuts and bolts in them. Always make sure that your child plays with safe, age-appropriate toys, and do check the manufacturer’s age recommendations
- Keep refrigerator magnets away from the reach of children
- Make meals an exclusive time, help kids focus on chewing, understanding the mechanism
- Warn older kids not to leave toys or stationery unattended or loose at places where younger siblings can reach
Infant Choking First Aid
Though we hope that you never have to be in this situation, in the event your little one does happen to choke, the below first aid must be administered to the child:
After you have thoroughly assessed the situation, you can do take the following steps-
- If the choking object can be seen at the back of the throat, then gently pull it out
- If your baby coughs, encourage coughing but if it is still ineffective after 2-3 minutes, try back blows and chest thrusts
- Sit on a chair and position the baby with head facing downwards. Whack the area at the back between both the shoulder blades. Repeat 4-5 times
- Never try to poke your fingers in the baby’s throat as this may push the object further down
- If the baby becomes unconscious or slows/stops breathing, call immediately for help and initiate CPR. If you can see the object, take it out, else give two rescue breaths
- If the air still doesn’t go in, tilt the head and give two more rescue breaths
- Until help arrives, continue to do chest compressions
Choking can be prevented by storing things smartly when you have an infant in the house. Follow all the preventive measures. Being closely involved with your baby during his play and meal time will also strengthen the mother-child bond as well as allow you to keep an eye on him. It’s a good idea to learn how to perform CPR as well as teach other caregivers too.