When it comes to safety and your children, everything seems terrifying. Of course you're overly cautious about everything, and even a bump or scrape is sure to break your heart. But, when it comes to serious things, like choking, education is the best way to be prepared. You may have taken a CPR or Heimlich course before you had your baby, but it's always a good idea to brush up every chance you get. The telltale gagging cough can be a sign of choking, but there are silent signs your baby is choking, too, and you need to look out for them.
According to Dr. Daniel J. Levy, MD, FAAP, associate professor of Pediatrics at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, coughing is the number one sign that something is partially blocking the upper airway. "If the child is making noise with the cough," Levy tells Romper, "the upper airway is not completely blocked. However, if the child is making cough-like movements without making noise, the airway is completely blocked." So, silence is a good indicator of a choking scenario, as coughing means that at least some air is passing through the airway.
Because babies are still learning how to chew and swallow, and because they are prone to explore their worlds by putting everything in their mouths, it's important to stay vigilant. Be sure to watch your baby while they eat and play, and try to keep all potential choking hazards out of their reach. Here are a few other signs that your child could be choking.
1. Unable To Breathe
If your little one is struggling to breathe, that is pretty much a surefire sign that something is wrong. Levy says, "Quickly turn the baby face down, supporting the head to be in line with the spine." This, hopefully, will help to dislodge whatever is blocking their airway.
2. Gasping Or Wheezing
If baby's airways are partially blocked, they might be gasping, coughing, or wheezing as they struggle to remove the object from their airways. Refrain from trying to sweep out the object with your finger, as you could unintentially push it in further. Instead, says Levy, attempt three blows to the mid-back with the heel of the hand.
3. Can't Talk, Cry, Or Make Noise
If your child is struggling in silence, it is likely they are choking. Being well-versed in emergency procedures can help you to remain calm and be able to help your child. "If the back blows are unsuccesful," notes Levy, "sharp mid-breastbone compressions with the index and middle finger is equivalent of a baby Heimlich maneuver."
4. Becomes Limp Or Unconscious
Becoming limp or unconscious after struggling for a bit shows that your baby is losing oxygen. It's vital to start compressions to try to dislodge the object. Keep in mind, says Levy, that the traditional Heimlich, with the sharp thrust up under the rib cage, is not used until age 3 to avoid internal bleeding and damage to the liver.
Choking situations can be terrifying to experience for everyone involved. You may have taken a Heimlich course before you had your baby, but continual refresher courses are always a good idea. Sometimes techniques and best practices change over time, and when it comes to your kids, you can never be too prepared for emergencies. Check with your local community hospital, fire or police department, or ask your pediatrician for their suggested classes.
Prevention is always the best way to avoid emergencies like choking, but of course, that's not always possible. The next best thing is to be knowledgeable and prepared — this will help you remain calm, should a situation arise, in order to provide the quickest and best care for your little one.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.