How to save a choking baby
The idea of a choking baby, or any little person in distress, scares me to death.
In December I took a two-day first aid course with St. John Ambulance, hopefully one of many skill-building exercises I will take related to health during the year.
We covered everything from broken bones and burns to adult and infant Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR.
To kick this one off, I am sharing a version of the story that ran in the paper. This happened five years ago. It is still burned into my brain.
The 10-month baby I was watching (my sister’s first baby, no pressure) woke up in the middle of the night crying.
The crying turned to screaming and then she started throwing up, gagging and heaving the way children do when they are alternating between screaming and trying to catch a full breath.
I was convinced she was seconds away from choking on her own vomit.
With the phone clutched in my right hand, I held my niece Josie over my shoulder and over the sink so the vomit would fall down and out of her mouth.
I knew that if her heaving cries stopped suddenly, we were in trouble.
Happily, Josie kept breathing and I didn’t have to call 911. I did reach her parents on the phone. Only after they came home was I told Josie throws up, or does her exorcist impression, when she's upset.
Turns out a good portion of it slid down my back, but at the time I hardly noticed.
So a desire to learn how to care for sick babies - not to mention seriously injured adults until help arrives - was how I ended up in the classroom of Nicole Bailey.
(Please note, there is a set series of simple but essential steps to infant CPR. This video has a decent outline but is no replacement for a course.)
Bailey, 41, has been a teacher with St. John Ambulance since breaking both her wrists in a bike accident three years ago. The accident prompted her to leave a “deadend” job in a grocery store.
Choking babies (babies who have stopped breathing) have about two minutes before brain damage sets in, explains Bailey.
That is why you need to be prepared to administer CPR, which means chest compressions. With babies you use two fingers. For our lesson we used a blue and silver plastic baby that could pass for the love child of a life jacket and Tron.
“Their (ribs are) actually more pliable (than adults') . . . because they are so young they are not as brittle,” says Bailey. But she adds, “we are likely to do more soft-tissue damage, so you still might see some bruising.”
Bailey says the most common thing babies choke on is food. Choking babies can’t scream, but they will be thrashing and turning red, blue or grey, she says.
She has never had to perform CPR on an unconscious baby, but has had to dislodge food from an infant’s mouth.
“It was terrifying,” she says.
The vomit was terrifying enough. It is a huge relief to know how to perform CPR on an baby, but I hope I never have to put it to the test.
Love kids, but don't have any. Thinking large breed dogs. Still searching. Might be my limit.