Reading Gemma’s story about her daughter Florence choking gave me goosebumps. I’m ashamed to say before I learnt first aid, I used to leave my daughter eating unsupervised whilst I was running around doing the housework. Thinking about what could have happened makes me feel sick, and Gemma’s story is a timely reminder that choking happens in an instant. Gemma has bravely decided to share her story as a warning to other parents . . .


Hi Gemma, can you tell us a little bit about your family?

Of course – I live with my husband Harry. Our daughter Florence is 2 and a half and our son Spencer is 8 months.


Can you tell us why you decided to do a first aid class when Florence was a baby?

Giving birth during the pandemic was tough enough, and I also had a bit of a difficult birth with Florence. Myself and Harry found it quite terrifying to realise we were suddenly totally responsible for the wellbeing of this tiny fragile human. I’d heard about Mini First Aid via a baby group I attended  - I thought what a fantastic idea, so I booked a class with my local trainer Anna for me and Harry. The course was incredibly informative, practical and had lots of anecdotes and examples that we were able to take away. I also loved the information booklet we got to take home with us.


Can you tell us about Florence’s choking incident? What was she eating?

I’d picked her up from nursery and it was dinner time – meatballs, one of Florence’s favourites! I remember as I served her dinner out I thought “these are a choking hazard” so I cut them in half. Even after that I hesitated, but then thought “no, they’ll be fine, she’s had them loads of times before”.


Gemma – I totally feel you here – I still cut my daughter's grapes up even though she is 12! What happened next?

Florence started tucking in at the dining room table and I’d wandered into the lounge to talk to Harry, holding baby Spencer. I suddenly heard a horrendous sound, like a gasping for breath. I turned to look at Florence and I will never forget her little face, full of panic.


That’s completely terrifying Gemma – what happened next?

I gave Spencer to Harry and shot over to Florence to take her out of her booster seat – I’ve never moved so quickly in my life. Once out of the booster seat I bent Florence over my arm and with the bottom of my hand I hit the middle of her back 5 times. What worried me the most was that she wasn’t coughing – not even an attempt to cough, which made me realise the meatball was completely stuck.


So did you move on to abdominal thrusts?

At this point Harry ran in and started abdominal thrusts like we’d been shown at our Mini First Aid class. Eventually Florence brought up the meatball and was sick. It was the scariest thing that has ever happened to us. The first thing Harry said was “Thank God we did that first aid course!”. We both sat on the floor cuddling Florence and looking at each other with tears in our eyes and a mutual “I am so grateful and relieved she is ok” glance between us.


How is little Florence now?

It was actually quite difficult because we were concerned that making too much of a fuss, or reacting too strongly would worry Florence. The last thing we wanted was for Florence to develop an issue with food because of what had happened. Thankfully she was completely fine – I could tell because she had some sweets later! She will occasionally make the comment “need to chew or make me choke”, but otherwise she is a happy, cheeky 2 year old!


What message would you like to give other parents Gemma?

I think that learning first aid is always one of those things people might think about doing but never get around to. People tell themselves “I’ll get round to that at some point” or “I won’t need it”. I can’t urge parents, grandparents, ANYONE enough to JUST DO IT! You will never regret learning how to save someone’s life.

You can learn the techniques Gemma has described at our 2 hour Baby and Child class  where you will also learn about burns, bumps, breaks and potentially life-threatening illnesses including meningitis and sepsis.

What should you do if your baby or child is choking?

Babies under 1 need a different technique to children:

·      5 back slaps

·      Up to 5 chest thrusts (jabbing motion). Check if anything comes out. If nothing has come out, call 999

·      Cycles of 5 back slaps and 5 chest thrusts

Technique to use for children over 1:

·      Encourage child to cough

·      5 back slaps between shoulder blades. Check if anything comes out and check mouth

·      Up to 5 abdominal thrusts. Clenched fist between tummy and breastbone, with other hand over the top. In and upwards motion. Check if anything comes out. If nothing has come out, call 999

·      Cycles of 5 back slaps and 5 abdominal thrusts

As you can see in the videos, you need to apply quite a bit of force to dislodge the blockage when someone is choking. Don’t forget that if you have delivered chest thrusts or abdominal thrusts, you must take your child to hospital to make sure no injuries have occurred. This is standard procedure.


Gemma, thanks so much for sharing your story – your family have been through an experience that is really traumatic, and we are so grateful that you have chosen to share your story to help other families.

Stay safe everyone, Charlotte @ Mini First Aid xx

 Our great value choking bundle 

This brilliant bundle is great for preventing a choking incident at home. Containing:

  • Grape cutter: quickly and easily chops grapes into safe quarters, can also be used on cherry tomatoes and large blueberries
  • Choke Tester: use this handy device to check if household items pose a choking risk - if they fit in the tester, they are a hazard
  • Sit, Chop, Chew book: this brilliant book teaches safe eating habits for the whole family. Ideal for reading together
  • Choking fridge magnet: stick this on your fridge so you can quickly see what steps to take if your child is choking

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