Infant Choking – Hazards, Symptoms, Prevention And First Aid

7 min read

Written by Editorial Team

Editorial Team

Infant choking

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. While it is common for babies to put things into their mouths, as parents it is vital that we monitor our babies constantly to prevent the hazard of infant choking

Swallowing and choking pose 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, and how to identify and prevent choking incidents? Read below to know more about infant choking.

In This Article

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:

  1. Food pipe (esophagus)
  2. Windpipe (trachea)

The food and drink that we consume go down the food pipe to the stomach. The air/oxygen we take in goes through the windpipe to the lungs. Choking is a result of a morsel or piece of food getting stuck in the trachea, blocking the airway and 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 the epiglottis.

If small food particles or water droplets slip into the windpipe, 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 the 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.

Common Causes Of Infant Choking

Common Causes Of Choking in babies

Food, as is obvious, is the most common reason for infant choking. Other than the food, small objects like buttons, parts of toys, cloth or accessory embellishments, and distractions 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:

1. Food Particles or Pieces

In infants, the teeth are not completely developed and therefore your baby may try 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, and nougat may also pose choking hazards. Be extremely cautious with nuts, candy, gums, popcorn, seeds, and pieces of soft foods

2. 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 a potential risk of choking to babies

3. Plastic and Rubber Articles

The baby can wrap plastic wrappers, carry bags around themselves 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

4. Covers

Babies may easily suffocate from insufficient oxygen supply when their face is covered with a blanket or they are left in cars with windows pulled up. Stuffed toys too pose a danger of infant choking.

Symptoms of Choking in Babies

Babies can rarely verbally express their discomfort or what they are going through. As parents, we must be watchful and mindful of what is happening with them.

Here are a few signs to show that your baby may be choking.

  1. Your baby is unable to breathe or make any noise
  2. The baby is gasping for air
  3. Is turning blue and looks panicked
  4. Making guttural noises
  5. Waving arms and holding throat.
  6. Has become unconscious

If the oxygen and blood supply to the heart and brain is obstructed just even for 4 minutes, it may result in severe damages and even death. In small babies, choking can cause serious respiratory emergencies and even heart attacks. Therefore, this condition requires vigilance and immediate remedy.

Common Infant Choking Hazards

choking hazards in infants

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 baby’s perspective. Babies are known to go places which adults never thought existed. Do keep a keen eye for the objects below

  1. Small parts of toys
  2. Buttons
  3. Ornamental gel balls, marbles
  4. Medicines
  5. Food items such as candies, nuts, biscuits, chocolates like Gems
  6. Stationery such as like paper clips, drawing pins, erasers, stapler pins etc.

Why Does My Baby Choke While Breastfeeding?

An 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, along with a foremilk/hindmilk imbalance, can lead to your little one choking, gagging, gulping or gasping while breastfeeding. T

he best 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 on your breast to ease the letdown.

Bottle-fed Baby Choking

Bottle-fed Baby Choking

If your baby struggles to find breath during bottle-feeding, you need to ensure that you are feeding them properly.

  • Always attach a nipple recommended for your baby’s age.
  • Make sure your baby’s head is slightly elevated when you bottlefeed your baby.
  • If the baby tilts its 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 they can handle.  You will have to change the nipple with the one that flows at a proper rate.
  • Sit your baby up, allowing them to swallow the milk and breathe normally before resuming feeding. Never overfeed the baby if they stop sucking, spit, or force the nipple out.
  • Forcing the baby drink more milk than he wants can also result in choking.

Top 10 Tips To Prevent Infant Choking

Whether it is a baby, a toddler or a school-going child, you need to ensure the safety of the highest standards for your little wonders. As parents you must:

  1. Keep an eye on your infant while they are eating or drinking. Sometimes the drink can go in the windpipe while laughing or sucking through the straw. The best way to eat and make merry is by not talking too much between mouthfuls.
  2. Provide maximum soft food, in appropriate chewable sizes.
  3. Chop fruits and salad to pea-sizes, if possible, mash them. Never leave the seeds unattended.
  4. Avoid food such as popcorn, small sucking candies, whole cherries or berries as they pose a greater risk of being sucked in and lodged in the windpipe. If you have to offer them to your older baby, make sure you supervise.
  5. Keep wires, cables, and earphones away from the reach of young babies as they may get tangled during their play and possibly choke.
  6. Stow away small things such as medicines, ornamental pebbles, coins, beads, and pins well away from your baby’s reach.
  7. Discard old and broken toys, especially the ones that have nuts and bolts in them. Always make sure that your baby plays with safe, age-appropriate toys, and do check the manufacturer’s age recommendations.
  8. Keep refrigerator magnets away from the reach of infants.
  9. Make meals an exclusive time, help babies focus on chewing, understanding the mechanism of eating properly.
  10. Warn older kids not to leave toys or stationery unattended or loose at places where younger siblings can reach.

First Aid For Choking in Infants

baby getting first aid

In the event your little one does happen to choke, the below first aid must be administered to the child. Also, click here to find out what to do when your child is choking. 

After you have thoroughly assessed the situation, you can do take the following steps-

  1. If the choking object can be seen at the back of the throat, then gently pull it out. Be careful to not push it further inside.
  2. If your baby coughs, encourage coughing, but if it is still ineffective after 2-3 minutes, try back blows and chest thrusts.
  3. Sit on a chair and position the baby with the head facing downwards. Whack the area at the back between both shoulder blades. Repeat 4-5 times.
  4. Never try to poke your fingers in the baby’s throat as this may push the object further down.
  5. If the baby becomes unconscious or slows/stops breathing, call immediately for help and initiate CPR. At the same time, if you can see the object, take it out, else give two rescue breaths.
  6. If the air still doesn’t go in, tilt the head and give two more rescue breaths.
  7. Until help arrives, continue to do chest compressions.


Infant 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 their play and mealtimes will also strengthen the parent-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.

Find out 5 Common Toddler Emergencies And Ways To Handle Them here.

Read Also: CPR in Babies: Steps And Precautions


1. Can Babies Choke on Milk While Sleeping?

Yes, babies do choke on milk while sleeping, especially during dream feeds or after midnight milk drinking sessions. It is important to burp your baby after every feed even during the night to avoid your baby choking on milk, especially when sleeping.

2. Can Baby Choke on Milk if Not Burped?

Yes, trapped air during milk drinking sessions can sometimes cause choking in babies when the trapped air tries to escape through the mouth. It is important to burp your baby after feeding to reduce choking risk.

3. Is my Baby Gagging or Choking. How to Differentiate?

Choking happens when a baby attempts to swallow a relatively bigger object and they baby gets silent during choking episodes. You will observe that your baby is moving hands and legs silently due to the inability to breathe properly. Gagging reflex is a way of your baby’s body of preventing choking. The airway is not blocked yet and your baby coughs and gurgles during episodes of gagging.

Editorial Team,

With a rich experience in pregnancy and parenting, our team of experts create insightful, well-curated, and easy-to-read content for our to-be-parents and parents at all stages of parenting.Read more.

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