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Early years

29th Apr 2022

How to tell the difference between gagging and choking in babies

There’s nothing as frightening as your child choking.

When you’re the parent of a baby this can be particularly scary as they can’t communicate to you if they’re in trouble or run to you like an older child.

When my daughter was younger I wrote about having to help my baby when she started to choke and you really would be surprised at the everyday things we take for granted but that are actually major choking hazards for young children.

Before you panic though, there are differences between when your child is gagging and when they are choking and knowing them could help save your child’s life.

If your child is gagging, don’t worry they are not in real trouble as they can still breathe. You can tell if your child is gagging if they do the following:

  • Open mouth and push tongue forward
  • Appear red in the face
  • Cough

If your child is gagging it is recommended not to interfere with them as it may cause them to choke on the obstruction. Young children have a very good gag reflex.

If your child is choking, they are in trouble and you need to act quickly. You can tell if your child is choking if they display any of the following:

  • The child will turn blue
  • They will be unable to cry or make noise
  • They may lose consciousness

If they are still conscious and alert then attempt to remove the blockage by placing them across the length of your arm or knee and slap them hard on the back. After you do this turn the child on their front and see if the obstruction has come out and if it hasn’t check if it is at least visible.

If you can not remove it yourself with first aid or your child is losing/has lost consciousness call 999 or 112 immediately.

When we’re flustered it can be hard to remember what signs to look for or what steps to take so when it looks like your child might be choking just think of this rhyme:

“Loud and red, let them go ahead.

Silent and blue, they need help from you.”

I started taking pediatric first aid after I had my son and though thankfully I have never had to use it, it gives me peace of mind to know I could help my child if they got into difficulty.

If you would like to book in for a first aid course you can find out more at