Babies tend to be quite noisy, making a variety of sounds like sneezing and hiccuping. Often, these noises are reactions to new sound disturbances around them and are healthy signs that their nervous system is functioning and maturing. You may have also heard your newborn make a gagging or gurgling sound and this can be understandably distressing. You may be troubled that your six-month-old baby won’t be able to cope with swallowing chunks of solid food.
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Gagging in Babies: Every Parent Should Know
Is it Normal for Babies to Gag Generally?
Gagging is a normal reflex all babies have as they learn to eat solid foods, whether they are spoon-fed or you’re doing baby-led weaning. Gagging brings food to the front of your baby’s mouth so they can chew it some more first or try to swallow a smaller amount. Your baby should gag less often as they develop and learn to regulate the amount of food they swallow.
When and Why Does a Baby Gag?
Gagging is a natural part of the learning process as babies explore toys and food with their mouth. In fact, that gag is designed to protect the baby by stopping any piece of food or foreign object from travelling back toward the throat and possibly blocking the airway. This is usually experienced while feeding or playing/teething.
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Why is Gagging Good for Babies?
Gagging, as opposed to choking, is a safety mechanism, it is the natural response to food travelling too far back in the mouth. So think of your baby gagging as them dealing with the issue. It goes without saying that you should never leave your baby unattended while they’re eating, but most of the time, they’ll sort the situation out without your help.
When do I Need to Worry?
If your baby pushes the food out with their tongue, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t like it — they’re just trying to figure out this new way of eating. Try feeding them slowly while they get the hang of it. After a few tries, they should start using their tongue to move the food to the back of the mouth. If your baby is still having trouble swallowing the food after a week, they’re just not ready for solids yet.
Once your baby’s ready for solid food, keep an eye on them so that they don’t choke while feeding themselves. Cut their food up into bite-size pieces no larger than 1/2 inch and avoid foods that are choking hazards, such as grapes, nuts and popcorn. Also, avoid fruits with stones and raw fruit or vegetables that could easily lodge in and obstruct the throat. Long, stringy pieces of food, such as unchopped spinach or fatty meats can also be dangerous to the baby. Most likely your baby will gag less as they get more meals over time. If they continue to gag on pureed foods, mention it to their doctor. The doctor can inspect for issues.
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How Should I Respond to Infant Gagging?
It is recommended to start with soft foods that you know your baby likes and mash them slightly less each time you offer them. If your baby likes bananas or mangoes, make them a little every time, working towards giving small pieces for your baby to hold and gum. And remember: some babies will prefer getting to grip large chunks of food, while others take a very slow transition from purée foods.
How can I Reduce Gagging in My Babies?
Try to get your baby to relax during feedings and don’t push them to eat more than they’re inclined to. If they’re bottle-fed, make sure the hole in the nipple is the right size. If it’s too large, too much milk or formula may come at them at once. Also, make sure they’re ready for solids before you introduce them. Your baby should be at least 4 to 6 months old and be able to sit upright with support.
When you think your baby’s ready, start by putting a small amount of food on a spoon. Tip the spoon and place a bit of the food on the front of the tongue, rather than putting the whole spoonful in the mouth. This way, your baby can suck the rest of the food off the spoon without feeling it at the back of the throat right away.
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What’s the Difference? Gagging vs Choking in Babies
Gagging is different from choking since choking means your baby’s airway is partially or completely blocked which can prevent breathing. Here’s the difference between gagging and choking:
- A child who is gagging may push their tongue forward or out of their mouth and do a retching movement to try to bring food forward. The eyes may water, they may cough or even vomit. Let your child continue to gag and cough because that’s the most effective way to fix the issue.
- A child who is choking is unable to cry, cough, breathe or gasp. They may make odd noises or no sound at all while opening their mouth. You may need to do back blows or chest thrusts to dislodge the blockages.
You should always supervise your baby at mealtimes or when offering food and as well as making sure other caretakers know to do the same.