Choking in infants can be a scary situation, especially if a parent or caretaker has no knowledge or training on how to go about it. The experience is particularly frightening because it actually puts the life of the affected child on the line.
Choking, medics say, is a situation when a foreign object gets stuck in the throat or windpipe, preventing the flow of air. Most often, they note, it’s more likely to happen to young children than adults.
This is because they are more prone to swallowing small objects and they don’t know how to chew food well before swallowing.
According to Dr Achille Manirakiza, whoever is left in the care of the child should be more watchful over them, especially when feeding them.
“Anything can cause a baby to choke, but mainly food stuffs, ranging from milk to solid foods. Therefore, it’s important as well to prevent kids to not swallow coins, metallic things hanging around their area of play,” he cautions, adding that, when choked, oxygen supply to the brain can be easily cut off.
When such incidents occur, Dr Manirakiza says, first aid should be administered to save their lives.
“It requires promptness from the parents or caretaker to identify that probably something has blocked the windpipe of the child,” he says.
What are the signs that a child is choked?
Gonzalue Niyigaba, a general practitioner in Kigali, points out that there are major signs a child exhibits when it chokes.
“For instance, a child’s hands will tend to grip the throat; if a child doesn’t give a signal, one should try to check keenly if they have difficulty in or noisy breathing, as well as difficulty in coughing. Some parts of their body like nails, skin and lips turning pale, and the child can lose consciousness,” he explains.
Niyigaba adds that undressing the infant is ideal in such an event so that they can be able to get fresh air.
“If the child can’t cry, cough or has noisy breathing, and turns bluish, then it means that her/his windpipe is completely blocked. In this case, immediate medical attention will be required for such a child,” advises Niyigaba.
How to go about the first aid
Dr Manirakiza explains that if the child can partially breathe or cough, the caretaker should first try out these steps as first aid to save its life.
“Applying five firm blows on the back between the shoulders, will work well. This is after holding the child on the laps face down. And if this doesn’t work out, gently but rapidly turning the baby upwards can be beneficial.
Moving the thrusts now to the chest wall for about another 5 times also helps,” he says.
Niyigaba points out that, abdominal thrusts also works if done properly and carefully.
“One should try out five abdominal thrusts, alternate between five blows and five thrusts until the blockage is removed. When performing the abdominal thrusts, one should sit and hold the baby facing down on forearm, letting him/her rest on the thigh,
He continues, “Give the baby a mild slap five times on the middle of the back using the heel of your hand. By doing this, the obstructive piece should be released.
However, Niyibaga advises that if the above process is not working, these should be tried out.
With the head lower than trunk, Grip the infant face up on your forearm. Give five quick chest compressions with the two fingers placed at the centre of the infant’s breastbone. Repeat the back blows and chest thrusts if breathing does not resume.
“Parents or those left in caring of the child should always position the child well while feeding them to avoid being choked by food. And the best position is putting them in the upright position to prevent such cases,”Manirakiza advises.