How to do the Heimlich Maneuver

One of the scariest things a person can experience is choking on something. The feeling of not being able to breathe no matter how hard you try is terrifying and creates uncontrollable panic. Although many associate choking with eating, choking can be caused by any foreign object being lodged in the throat, preventing air from reaching the lungs. In addition to mechanical obstruction, a person can also choke due to a sleep disorder, an allergic reaction, tissue swelling or the crushing of the trachea resulting in a blocked airway. That’s where it is important to know the Heimlich Maneuver.

According to the National Safety Council, choking is the fourth leading cause of unintentional injury death. One of the ways to assist yourself or a person who is choking is to perform what is called the Heimlich maneuver. The Heimlich maneuver is a technique used to help remove a trapped object from a person’s airway. This is a simple, life-saving technique that we encourage everyone to learn.

How to Tell if Someone is Choking

Before performing the Heimlich maneuver, you must first determine if a person is choking. Choking is when the respiratory passage is blocked by constriction of the neck, an obstruction in the trachea, or the swelling of the larynx. The most common sign that someone is choking is the person wrapping their hands around their throat. Often times, the person choking will stand up and draw attention to themselves, signaling for help. If they are not coughing, not breathing, and unable to speak, this may mean that they are choking and need assistance. Additionally, if the choking individual’s face begins to turn blue, this is due to a lack of oxygen as a result of the obstructed airway. This may then lead to them becoming unconscious from not being able to breathe. Without lifesaving efforts being used immediately such as the Heimlich maneuver, choking can lead to suffocation and eventually death.

Steps of the Heimlich Maneuver

Before performing the Heimlich maneuver on a choking individual, first determine if they are choking by referencing the information in the above section. If they have something stuck in their throat but they are able to still breathe, encourage them to cough forcefully to attempt to clear the object. If the breathing ceases and choking becomes more extreme, ask them if they are choking and then advise them that you are going to start the Heimlich maneuver. Instruct a bystander to call 911 while you begin life saving efforts. If you are alone, call 911 yourself to request emergency medical response. If available, place the call on speaker phone so you can dedicate your hands to the Heimlich maneuver while talking to the 911 operator instead of holding a phone. Once you are ready to follow through with the Heimlich maneuver, follow these steps:

For an Adult

  1. Stand behind the person choking and place one leg forward in between their legs.
  2. Reach around the abdomen and find the naval area.
  3. Place the thumb side of your fist against the abdomen just above the naval.
  4. Grasp your fist with the other hand and thrust in and up into the abdomen with quick jerks.
  5. Continue thrusts until the choking individual expels the object.

Even if you are able to successfully unblock an object using the Heimlich maneuver, still continue to seek medical attention for any injuries or damage that may have occurred during the process.

For an Infant

Heimlich Maneuver

Children can often choke on small objects that they find or food that is too big for them. To prevent choking in infants, keep small objects out of reach, make sure to always cut their food into small bites and avoid hard candies. The Heimlich maneuver should not be performed on a child under one year old.

As always, 911 should always be called immediately for emergency medical response. If you determine that an infant is choking, follow these steps:

  1. Sit down with the baby face down on your forearm and rest it on your thigh.
  2. With the heel of your hand, gently administer five back blows in between the shoulder blades.
  3. If the back blows do not work, turn the baby face up while still resting on your forearm and thigh with their head lower than the rest of their body.
  4. Place your index and middle finger at the center of the infant’s breastbone and perform five quick chest compressions that are about 1.5 inches deep for one second per compression.
  5. Continue to alternate from back blows to chest compressions until the object is dislodged and the baby can breath again.

For a Pregnant Woman

Heimlich Maneuver

Due to their pregnant stomach, you will not be able to get the proper placement of your hands around their abdomen. Instead, position your hands higher on their torso around the base of their breastbone and perform the thrusts. Follow this same procedure if performing the Heimlich maneuver on an overweight individual that you cannot properly fit your arms around.

For Pets

Heimlich Maneuver

Even your dogs, cats, and other pets are risk of choking. If you are a pet owner, learning how to perform the Heimlich maneuver on an animal will be useful in the event they are choking. Use caution when trying to assist a choking animal because even docile ones can panic and become aggressive when choking.

  1. Using both hands, open the animal’s mouth.
  2. If possible, press the animal’s lips over their teeth so their lips are between their teeth and your fingers.
  3. Look inside the animal’s mouth and remove any visible obstruction that you can grab with your fingers.
  4. If you are unable to remove the object or food, use a spoon or something flat to pry it away from their teeth or roof of their mouth.
  5. If these steps do not work, apply pressure to the animal’s abdomen just below the rib cage.
  6. Make a fist and push up and forward firmly.
  7. If you are unable to pick the dog up, lay them on their side and place one hand on their back while squeezing the abdomen upwards and forward with the other hand.
  8. Check the animal’s mouth after Heimlich maneuver to remove the dislodged object.

For Yourself

Heimlich Maneuver

Choking is scary enough as it is. Being alone and feeling helpless makes the situation even worse. Believe it or not, you can actually give yourself the Heimlich maneuver in the event you are choking and there is no one around to help you. Follow the steps of the Heimlich maneuver but with your hand placement on your own abdomen while giving yourself five thrusts. If you are not successful at expelling the object through doing the Heimlich maneuver on yourself, thrust your upper abdomen against a hard edge such as the corner of a table or chair.

For more safety tips check out How to do Infant CPR here.

Heimlich Maneuver

Information contained in this post does not constitute legal advice and should not be substituted for professional legal counsel. Daily Mom is not liable for the consequences of any actions taken on the basis of the information provided.

Sources: Choking Prevention and Rescue Tips, Choking, What is the Heimlich Maneuver?, How to Perform the Heimlich Maneuver if Your Dog is Choking

Photo Credit:   Pixabay



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Sasha, mother of one, never has a dull moment with her wild child and prefers it that way! Previously a law enforcement officer, she is now the spokesperson for a fire department. Sasha lives in Daytona Beach, Florida and enjoys running, shopping, and pool parties.