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Suffocation in Children: Prevention and Emergency Treatments

Medically reviewed by Kristina Campos, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Nikita Bhalla · Updated Jun 16, 2022

    Suffocation in Children: Prevention and Emergency Treatments

    Suffocation is the feeling of losing your breath due to various reasons. If someone or something covers the baby’s mouth or nose, he/she is unable to breathe and this leads to suffocation. Studies have shown that soft bedding and plastic are two of the main reasons for suffocation in children. A percentage of deaths that fall under the sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in the past years, is believed to have occurred due to baby’s suffocation on soft bedding.  

    Infants and small children are highly inquisitive and tend to not just play with their toys but also put them in their mouth or land up hurting themselves unintentionally. 

    Toddlers have small airways that can be blocked easily, resulting in suffocation. And their reflexes not being completely developed and strong, they find it difficult to deal with this suffocation and take care of their action.

    What Would Lead to Suffocation in Children?

    There are various factors in the baby’s surroundings that could pose as a choking and suffocation risk to their health.


    • When your baby is under three years of age, their full set of teeth has not developed and they cannot chew properly. This can cause them to choke on their food. Hence, certain whole foods can cause them suffocation by getting stuck in their breathing tubes. Foods like nuts, grapes, raw carrots, pieces of chocolates, apples, corn chips and many more. 
    • Make note that your kid is sitting quietly while eating or drinking to prevent suffocation in children by choking.
    • Cut hard and big foods into small pieces or make them into a semi-liquid paste and then feed your baby.

    suffocation in children

    Small-Sized Objects

    • Any minuscule object can lead to suffocation in children below the age of three years. 
    • Items like needles, buttons, safety pins, magnets, coins should be all kept at a safe distance and away from the reach of infants and small children as they have a tendency to put everything in their mouth, leading to suffocation or choking.
    • Any product containing batteries like games and television remotes should be locked properly.

    Toys and Games

    • Not choosing age-appropriate toys and games can lead to adverse results.
    • Children, especially the ones under the age of three years should be playing majorly with toys that have been recommended or labeled for ‘0-3’ years and should be larger in size so that there are no chances of swallowing them.
    • When outdoors, the child has to be supervised by an adult, especially when playing on rope swings.


    • Firstly, plastic is hazardous and causes suffocation to the entire ecosystem and not just children. 
    • Always tie a big knot on the plastic bag before throwing it away so that the kid doesn’t swallow it. 
    • Remove plastic covers from mattresses and they should be discarded as soon as possible.

    Curtains and Blinds

    • The dangling curtain cords may increase your baby’s risk of strangulation and suffocation. 
    • The curtain cord length should be kept at a length that is unreachable by children. 

    Pillows and Blankets

    • Making a baby sleep in an adult bed is a big mistake. 
    • A child should not be having pillows, quilts, blankets, and stuffed toys with him/her during sleep. They’re also a cause of suffocation as they can interfere with their breathing.

    Preventions to Avoid Suffocation in Children?

    • Make the child sleep on a firm mattress.
    • Have the child sleep on his/her back. 
    • Though it is very difficult with a small child, try to keep living spaces extremely organized with all objects in their place. The lesser your child comes in contact with dangerous (for them) objects, the fewer chances of suffocation.
    • Always keep an eye on them when they’re playing, especially the kids under three years of age. Infants are most vulnerable to suffocation, choking, and breathlessness due to their eagerness of exploring.
    • When they’re playing games, which requires them to hide – in places like wardrobe or any other tight places, ensure to see that they do not lose their breathing because of suffocation. 

    Treatment for Suffocation in Toddlers and Children

    The following first aid is something all parents should know. Remember that this applies to toddlers and older children only.

    • If your child is feeling suffocated or choking beyond your control, call the doctor immediately.
    • Try to wrap your arms around the child’s waist while standing behind the child.
    • With your right hand, make a fist with your thumb side in. Place your fist just below the kid’s chest and slightly above the naval and grab that fist with the other hand.
    • Give an upward push by pressing into the abdomen using your fist. Repeat this inward-upward push until the stuck food piece or object comes out of the child’s mouth, easing him from suffocation.
    • Once the object is out, rush the kid to the doctor to see if there are still pieces left inside or if the kid is now doing completely fine.

    For babies, here’s what you can do as emergency first aid measures or while you are waiting for emergency services:

    • Using your forearm, carry the infant face down, supporting their jaw and head with your hand.
    • With the heel of your hand, slap them on the back between their shoulder blades.
    • If five back slaps are not enough to dislodge the object, turn the baby over so that they’re lying on their back.
    • With two fingers give them five chest thrusts, pushing down gently but firmly in the middle of their chest (on the breastbone, between the nipples).
    • Repeat the process, both back slaps and chest thrusts, until they can breathe easier or cry out loud or until they stop responding.
    • Do not hesitate to call for emergency help as needed. Acting quickly is crucial to carrying out the right first aid.

    Toddlers are ever-enthusiastic and energized souls and are prone to suffocation and choking more than adults. Ensure that you keep an eye on their play-time and whereabouts in equal intervals to ensure they haven’t caused themselves any trouble or shown any signs of suffocation.

    Learn more about child health and safety, here


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Kristina Campos, MD

    General Practitioner

    Written by Nikita Bhalla · Updated Jun 16, 2022

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