Aiding Choking Infants

Incorrect Instructions for Aiding Choking Infants Dangerous, But Still Used

Incorrect instructions as to how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver® on choking children and infants under one year of age are still appearing in newspapers and are taught in CPR/first aid classes. Consequently, the death of an infant in New Jersey, August of 2000, may be due to wrong information given to the child's mother by a 911 dispatcher. The case is currently under investigation.

On August 30, 2000, Gail Iarrapino called Bridgewater 911 and begged the dispatcher to give her instructions for performing the Heimlich Maneuver on her two-year old daughter who was choking on a toy.

The dispatcher told the woman to make a fist and press on the child's breastbone. According to the 911 tapes, the dispatcher also told the woman to "bang her on the back between her... between her shoulder blades."

After unsuccessful attempts to dislodge the obstruction, the child was taken to the hospital by ambulance and died the next day.

The Heimlich Maneuver was determined safe and effective for all ages of choking victims by the U.S. Surgeon General in 1985. However, incorrect instructions, such as delivering back blows are still reaching the public. Back slaps are not recommended for any choking victim, although these instructions are still sometimes taught for use on infants. The practice is likely to cause more damage by forcing the object deeper into the throat.

The American Red Cross teaches the Heimlich Maneuver correctly for children and adults. However, their instructions for infants under the age of one call for five back slaps and two-finger chest thrusts on the breastbone.

Those instructions, says Dr. Henry Heimlich, are "absolutely wrong."

The Heimlich Maneuver is effective because pressing the diaphragm upward provides an even compression of the lungs, which causes a flow of air. That air provides energy necessary to push a choking object out through the mouth.