In Case of Emergency: First Aid for Babies and Toddlers

It is important to know first aid techniques to rescue your baby or toddler in case of an emergency. All parents and caregivers looking after an infant or young child must know what to do in case of a choking emergency or if their baby becomes unresponsive.

Key takeaways:
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    Always call 911 in case of an emergency. Professional help is best.
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    Parents and caregivers looking after a baby can use life-saving techniques until the ambulance arrives.
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    The Heimlich maneuver is a first aid method used in case of a choking emergency for children aged one or older and for adults.
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    Infants should receive back blows instead of the Heimlich maneuver.
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    If the baby or toddler does not respond to shouting or tapping a foot or if they are not breathing, tell someone to call 911 and get ready to perform CPR.
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    Professional training kits are available to learn how to properly perform first aid techniques.

Interested to know more about how to perform life-saving techniques properly or perhaps to refresh your memory? This article provides an overview of two first aid techniques and details about useful home training kits.

Heimlich maneuver for toddlers and back blows for infants

Also known as abdominal thrusts, the Heimlich maneuver is a first aid method used in case of a choking emergency for children aged one year or older and for adults. Infants should receive back blows instead of the Heimlich maneuver. Choking occurs because food, a toy, or another foreign item blocks the baby’s throat or windpipe.

If the child can cry, breathe, cough, or speak, you don't have to perform these techniques, as the baby’s cough is more effective. However, call 911 and have the baby evaluated by the emergency physician because a partial blockage of the airway can lead to a complete blockage.

If the baby is conscious but is unable to cry, cough, speak or breathe, have someone call 911 while you get prepared to perform the maneuver. If you are alone and unable to clear the obstruction after two minutes, call 911 and continue to perform the rescue efforts following the instructions from the 911 personnel until the ambulance arrives.

How to perform the Heimlich maneuver for toddlers

  • Stand behind your toddler. Wrap your arms around his or her waistline.
  • Make a fist with one hand, and clasp the other hand around it.
  • Place your fists below the ribcage, and above the belly button.
Place your fists below the ribcage, and above the belly button.
  • Perform quick thrusts inward and upward five times.
Perform quick thrusts inward and upward five times.
  • Repeat the thrusts until the object is dislodged or your toddler starts to breathe or cough. If he or she becomes unconscious, start CPR.

The Heimlich maneuver is not recommended for infants. Back slaps (or back blows) are used instead.

How to perform back slaps for infants

  • Turn your infant face down, with the chest on your forearm. The head should be lower than your infant’s body.
  • Perform five back slaps using the heel of one hand, right between the baby’s shoulder blades. The slaps must be firm to be effective, but not too hard to injure the baby.
Perform five back slaps using the heel of one hand
  • Look at the baby’s mouth. If there is any visible object, remove it.
  • If the foreign object is not expelled after five back slaps and the airways are still blocked, turn the baby over on his or her back, with the head down.
  • Continue to support the head with your hand, while using the second and third fingers from your other hand to give five inward and upward chest thrusts, on the breastbone.
  • Give five chest thrusts. Use two fingers of your other hand to push on the breastbone between the nipples. Push down and then let go. Check the baby’s mouth again, looking for any visible objects.
Use two fingers of your other hand to push on the breastbone between the nipples
  • Repeat five sets of back slaps and five chest thrusts until the baby starts to breathe, cry, or cough or until she or he stops responding.
Repeat five sets of back slaps and five chest thrusts
  • If your infant becomes unconscious, start CPR.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)

If the baby or toddler does not respond to shouting or tapping his or her foot, is not breathing, or only gasping, tell someone to call 911 and get ready to perform CPR. Place your baby on her or his back on a firm, flat surface. Stand or kneel on one side of the baby.

Place your baby on her or his back

Give 30 compressions. Place both thumbs on the baby’s chest, just below the nipple line. Push down and fast. Another option is to use two fingers from the same hand to perform compressions.

Place both thumbs on the baby’s chest

Give two breaths. Open the airway using the head-tilt/chin-lift technique. Blow air in the baby’s mouth for one second, and check if the chest is rising with each breath. Let the air out before giving it another breath. If the baby’s chest does not rise with the breath, re-tilt their head. If the chest does not rise again, it could be a foreign object obstructing the airway.

Open the airway using the head-tilt/chin-lift technique

Repeat giving sets of 30 compressions to two breaths until the baby becomes responsive, and starts breathing or if the ambulance arrives. If you are alone, call 911 after five sets of 30 compressions every two breaths, and then resume the sets.

Repeat giving sets of 30 compressions to two breaths

Home kits

Created by health experts, home training kits help parents and caregivers practice and learn a variety of first-aid techniques.

Infant CPR Anytime Training Kit. This self-directed, 20-minute program was developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in collaboration with the American Heart Association (AHA). It is a great choice for new parents, caregivers, and babysitters. Skills are learned by practicing on a manikin while watching the technique on a DVD. There is another version for adults and older children. These kits are available online or can be ordered from the online bookstore.

A variety of posters and pocket guides explaining how to perform CPR in infants and toddlers are available online. Choose a product created or endorsed by the AAP, AHA, or Red Cross or written by a medical professional with expertise in pediatric emergencies.

The Heartsaver Pediatric First Aid CPR AED course from the AHA trains parents, childcare workers, and teachers how to respond to and manage illnesses and injuries in a child or infant in the first few minutes until professional help arrives. This program includes first aid basics for medical emergencies including injuries, poison, bleeding control, burns and electrical injuries, breathing problems, allergic reactions, seizures, and more.

How you deal with an emergency if your baby or infant is choking can vastly be improved if you learn the techniques of a Heimlich maneuver for toddlers, or the back blows method for infants. Always call 911 in case of an emergency.

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