IT'S a terrifying moment that every parent prays they will never have to experience.
But as babies explore the world around them by putting things in their mouth, choking is something they are at a much higher risk of.
And in that situation every second can count – which is why knowing how to react is so important.
It's something ex-Towie star Lucy Mecklenburgh experienced first hand earlier this week when her baby son started choking on an apple.
The worried mum took to her Instagram page to ask followers for advice following the scary incident with nearly one-year-old Roman on Tuesday.
Sharing a snap of the tot looking sad as he snuggled into her chest with his dummy, the 29-year-old wrote: "This morning Roman choked on a little piece of apple.
"He managed to clear it himself but spent two hours gagging, being sick, and bringing up saliva.
"He's just not himself, I think it must be the acid irritating his throat and shock.
"He's not eaten breakfast, and lunch he put in his mouth, gagged, and spat it all out.
"From anyone's experience, is this just fear? I'm worried he's really hungry but too scared to eat."
Lucy clarified in a second post: "We did go to the GP and he suggested A&E if he continued to refuse fluids, but he has finally had a bottle of water and breast fed, just won't eat solids."
She admitted she was checking on him "every 15 minutes".
Recalling what happened, Lucy said: "It was awful, it went on for two hours – just him bringing up saliva and being sick then being fine, and suddenly gagging and bringing more up. It all escalated."
The new mum admitted that she'd been caught by surprise as the thought that once the blockage was removed during choking and the airwaves were clear, the baby will go straight back to normal.
But how can parents prepare for similar sorts of incidents – and what should you do if it happens to you?
We asked Dr Richard Daniel and Dr Shruti Jawahar both NHS paediatricians and clinical for the Juno Health paediatrics app…
What to do if you baby is choking
If your child starts to choke on a small object or piece of food, it can be incredibly scary.
The airway can suddenly become blocked, and it’s therefore really important to know what to do if the situation arises.
As Lucy Meclenburgh’s story shows, it’s very common amongst babies and young children – particularly those under the age of one.
Most often the cause of choking will be a small object, such as a small toy, or food that’s become stuck and is blocking the windpipe.
Most of the time, your child will start coughing and this cough will be enough to clear the blockage.
If your child is coughing strongly, the most important thing to do is encourage them to continue coughing.
Keep them upright and support them as they cough. In most cases, this is enough to dislodge whatever is stuck.
However, if the blockage isn’t cleared quickly, choking can be life threatening.
What are the signs to look out for?
If your child has started choking, the danger signs to look out for are:
- If your child’s cough is starting to get weaker
- If their skin starts to turn a blue/grey colour
- If they become unresponsive, or if they appear unable to swallow, breathe or speak
Any of these signs means that your child is unable to clear the blockage themselves and will need your help.
Call for help straight away if you’re with somebody and if you’re on your own, call 999 and put the call on speakerphone.
The operator will be able to dispatch an ambulance and talk you through how you can help your child.
Here's what you will typically be asked to do:
1. Look inside their mouth
Have a quick look into their mouth to see if the blockage is easy to reach. If it can easily be removed with a quick sweep of the little finger, then try to dislodge the food or object. However, it’s vital that you don’t go poking around blindly in their mouth or throat as this will make things worse.
2. Back blows
If you’re unable to remove the blockage manually, the next step is back blows.
Place your child face down across the length of your lap.
Support their chin with your non-dominant hand, then tilt your body gently so that their head is slightly lower than their legs.
Using the heel of your dominant hand, make a single strike on the child’s back between their shoulder blades – right in the middle of the back.
It needs to be hard enough to try and dislodge the blockage.
After one back blow, check to see if the obstruction has dislodged. To do this, look in the child’s mouth quickly and see if their situation has improved (such as easier breathing).
If there’s been no change, repeat this until five back blows have been given.
It’s important to check after each strike to see if the blockage has been removed.
If there is no improvement after five attempts, you move on to try chest thrusts.
3. Chest thrusts
For this, hold your child face up across your lap.
Support the back of their head with your non-dominant hand, then tilt your body gently so that their head is slightly lower than their legs.
Then, using your index and middle finger of your dominant hand, press sharply in a jabbing motion in the middle of the breastbone, just underneath the line where their nipples are.
Use enough force to imagine you are squeezing air to blow the blockage out.
After each chest thrusts, check to see if the obstruction has dislodged, just as you did with the back blows.
If there is no change, repeat this until five jabs have been given – checking after each jab to see if the blockage has been removed.
If there is no improvement after five attempts, go back and repeat the back blows, alternating between five back blows and five chest thrusts until the blockage is removed.
If you’ve needed to use back blow or chest thrusts to help your child, they must be seen in A&E afterwards for an assessment.
Despite what you see in films, do not perform the Heimlich manoeuvre on a small child as it can be dangerous.
If your child remains unresponsive, you may need to perform CPR. I recommend that all parents read up on how to safely perform CPR on infants – the NHS has a handy guide.
In an emergency situation, the 999 call handlers will also be able to explain what you need to do.
Like all child health situations, prevention is better than cure.
Cut up food into small pieces, ensure children are observed when eating, and keep small objects out of reach.
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