How To Give The Heimlich Maneuver To Everyone In Your Life — Including You

Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.
In an early episode of 30 Rock, Liz Lemon finds herself scarfing down a microwave dinner — and suddenly choking. But she actually does pretty well! She falls over a chair in her kitchen and forces that rebellious piece of undetermined meat out of her throat, forever instilling in me the fear of choking/dying alone.
But, whether you live alone or not, knowing how to help someone who's choking is a pretty important and potentially lifesaving skill. Of course, the best way to learn this (and CPR) is with a hands-on class. But we've collected the basics here for you.
Essentially, when you're choking, something has gotten stuck in your throat or your windpipe in a way that blocks off air from getting to your lungs. Without oxygen, your brain can't function. And, after a few minutes without air, you'll die.
So, if you or someone you're with starts choking, you need to act fast. Because time is truly of the essence, you should try to take care of it yourself before calling 911. But, if there's someone else with you, have them call.
There are actually a few different techniques out there for helping someone who's choking. But the most well-known is the Heimlich maneuver, named for it's recently-deceased inventor. Here are the basic Heimlich maneuver steps, courtesy of the Mayo Clinic. Before you get all heroic, though, definitely ask that person if they're really choking. If they give you the universal hands-around-neck signal or some other confirmation that they're in trouble, get to it:
1. Stand behind the person who's choking, wrapping your arms around their waist.
2. Make one hand into a fist and grip it with the other hand just above the person's belly button.
3. Press your fist hard upward and into the person's stomach, as if you're trying to life them up.
4. Repeat this four more times for a total of five thrusts. If the person is still choking, go for another five. If your patient loses consciousness, perform CPR.
However, the Red Cross suggests alternating between five "back blows" and five abdominal thrusts. But if you haven't been trained to perform that properly, the Mayo Clinic advises you to stick with the Heimlich maneuver.
To give a pregnant person the Heimlich maneuver, the steps are basically the same. But, because that force can harm a developing fetus, we have to adjust one thing a little bit. Specifically, rather than delivering "abdominal thrusts," you'll need to perform "chest thrusts." To do so, you'll place your hands at the bottom of the breastbone.
And, if you happen to be by yourself, take a cue from Liz: Place your fist above your belly button, lean over a hard surface (a chair works great), and thrust upwards. Or, as MedLine suggests, just thrust your upper abdomen against whatever hard surface you've chosen without using your fist. Then, enjoy your microwave dinner in peace — and in smaller bites.

More from Body

R29 Original Series