Rowena happilly holding her baby daughter

Rowena Vithlani decided to learn first aid on a British Red Cross course after giving birth to her daughter. She wanted to build her confidence as a parent. Little did she know that her decision to do so would help save another baby’s life.   

A normal day out

Rowena had been shopping with her mother in a department store, along with her five-month-old daughter. They’d stopped for coffee in the children’s section, where there were lots of mothers with their babies.

Seated near their table was one mother feeding her nine-month-old baby girl some homemade food.

“Given we had two little baby girls we exchanged compliments on the girls and then continued with our business,” Rowena said.

Leaving her daughter with her mother, Rowena went off to buy the coffees. But while in the queue, she heard a loud commotion. Looking around, she realised it was the mother she’d just met.

“She was screaming ‘My baby, my baby’ over and over again,” Rowena said.

“I could see there was something wrong with the little girl as she wasn’t moving and was very quiet and so, instinctively, I left the queue and ran to the back of the café to see if I could help.”

‘I think it was my mother’s instinct that kicked in’

When Rowena arrived back at the table, two other customers had come to the mother’s aid.

“They were trying to calm the mother down while furiously patting the back of the baby girl,” she said.

“I was desperately trying to make sense of the situation as it was chaotic and quickly realised from the signs that she was choking on the baby food she was being fed.”

Fortunately, Rowena knew what to do.

“I told the women attempting to help to give the girl to me,” she said.

“They were on autopilot and didn’t respond to me, so I said ‘I’ve done first aid’ and took the baby from them. I think it was my mother’s instinct that kicked in.”

Giving first aid

Because Rowena had completed a baby and child first aid course with the Red Cross, she felt confident enough to help.

“I sat on a chair and held the baby girl face down along the length of my left leg with her head lower than my knee,” Rowena said.

“I then started to give her back blows – hitting her firmly on the back between the shoulder blades.

“Upon delivering the second or third back blow the baby girl started to cry and so I realised that she could now breathe and that the blockage in her throat had now gone.”

She handed the girl to her mum and reassured both of them that everything was now okay. The mother was quite shocked and upset. It was only then that Rowena realised her own hands were shaking from the adrenaline.

“I didn’t fully realise until that point what had just happened and the gravity of it, and how it had impacted me also,” she said.

But Rowena had done something remarkable, yet also very simple. With a few simple actions, she’d saved that baby’s life.

When the store’s first aiders arrived, she told them what had happened and what she had done.

“I’m just grateful that I was there at the right time to be able to help,” Rowena said modestly.

What to do if a baby is choking
  1. Give up to five back blows. Hold the baby face down along your thigh with their head lower than their bottom. Hit them firmly on their back between the shoulder blades up to five times. If back blows do not dislodge the object, move on to step two.
  2. Give up to five chest thrusts. Turn the baby over so they are facing upwards and place two fingers in the middle of their chest just below the nipples. Push sharply downwards, repeating up to five times.
  3. Call 999 if the object does not dislodge.
Learn first aid

Rowena would encourage more people to learn first aid, especially parents: “You never know when you’re going to need it. Hopefully a story like mine makes people realise that this should be a priority.”

Pick your way to learn.