As a new momma gagging or choking sounds while your baby is feeding can sound terrifying. Weather breast or bottle fed your little one is bound to sound like they are spluttering or choking from time to time.
The good news is that it is most likely nothing to worry about. Read on to find out some of the reasons why your baby may be choking on milk, what to do if your baby is choking on breastmilk or formula and when you need to be concerned.
As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. The links below maybe affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy for more information.
Why is my baby choking on milk?
Babies are born with a hypersensitive gag reflex. They gag really easily simply because of their neurologic immaturity.
It may be that your breast is full to bursting and the milk is flowing out at a rate that your baby just cannot handle, so they splutter and pull away. You can avoid this by hand a expressing a little milk out to add some relief.
Alternatively, just fire away. Your baby can handle it. They know when too much is too much and will pull back and splutter. You may end up with your milk shooting across the room, but if you’re at home, is that really such a worry?
Perhaps you have an overactive let down. The let down happens when your baby is feeding and the milk begins to flow. If you have an overactive let down it may flow a little too fast for the baby to handle and again, they will pull back and sound like they are choking.
It probably isn’t anything to worry about, but there are changes you can make to your feeding technique to help to slow down your milk flow and stop your baby from choking on milk.
What do I do if my baby is choking on my breastmilk?
If your baby begins to choke while you are breastfeeding, place them over your should and pat their back to help to relieve their cough and to help to sooth them. The choking may startle them and they may become distressed.
It is a good idea to try out an alternative feeding position. If you do have an overactive let down you can try feeding in a more reclined position. Get yourself a comfortable stack of cushions, get your feet up and have the baby straddle your thigh.
Get them nose to nipple, position the webbing between your thumb and fore finger between their shoulder blades and when they open up their tiny little mouth as wide as it will go pull them into you.
They will tip their head back and latch onto a good chunk of breast tissue. The reclined position prevents gravity from forcing your milk to gush out, allowing your baby to have control over the speed and force of the milk as they suck.
Another position you may want to try is lying on your side. Position your baby close to your body. Their head should be tilted back with their nose lined up to your nipple. Again, use the webbing between your thumb and forefinger to pull them in close to you as soon as their mouth is wide enough.
This position enables any fest flowing excess milk to drip out of your baby’s mouth and nose while they are feeding. Milk dripping out of their nose is perfectly normal by the way.
Your baby’s nose is connected to the back of their throat, so sometimes they may experience a little nasal regurgitation or reflux. It’s nothing to worry about unless it appears to be causing distress.
If you are going to try this technique, position a cushion or body pillow behind you to help support your back. Curve your arm around your baby to keep them tucked in close to you.
Also, check out advice on safe bed sharing. The little one might fall asleep making this an excellent opportunity for you to catch up on a little shut eye while snuggling with your baby.
I stress though, be sure to read up on the latest bedsharing guidance before embarking on this position to ensure that you and your baby stay safe.
What do I do if my baby is choking on formula?
Much like with breastfeeding, there is a whole technique to bottle feeding. If your baby seems to be choking when drinking from a bottle, it is often due to the positioning.
If they are lying on their back bottle feeding, the milk will inevitably flow faster. Gravity. Fast flowing milk from a bottle can lead to choking, gaging and/or reflux.
To make bottle feeding more comfortable for your baby and hopefully avoid excessive gagging or choking, keep the bottle horizontal. The teat should not be full of milk but level with the ground.
This enables your baby to have better control of the milk flow, decreasing the risk of choking. This technique is called ‘paced bottle-feeding’.
Now, just as a side note, I don’t think that you would do this but just in case you are in a haze of sleepless new motherhood, whatever you do, never prop up a milk bottle and leave your baby to feed.
They won’t be able to control the milk flow and the milk will keep on going even if they are not able to keep up with swallowing. This can be very distressing and dangerous.
What is reflux?
Both breastfed and formula fed babies can suffer from reflux. However, bottle fed babies tend to get it worse, with discomfort lasting longer and occurring more frequently.
Reflux is when the milk passes back up from the stomach to the oesophagus and spills out of their mouth. Sometimes the milk won’t come up out of their mouth but will pass up and then back down. This is called silent reflux. Both can be very painful and cause your baby a lot of distress.
Some symptoms of reflux are:
- bringing up milk either during or just after a feed
- being adjugated during a feed
- swallowing or gulping after burping
- showing signs of distress during or after a feed
- not gaining weight
If you are concerned that your baby is showing signs of reflux but they seem happy, healthy and gaining weight then there is nothing to worry about. If, however, they are showing signs of distress other than mild choking and it appears as if they may be suffering, consult a medical professional.
When should I be worried about my baby choking on milk?
If your baby starts to gag or choke on milk, whether it be breastmilk or formula from a bottle prop them up to clear the airway and calm them down. It’s most likely that this will stop the choking and you can go back to feeding.
Try out the techniques above to slow down milk flow and prevent your baby from choking on milk.
In very rare cases the baby may choke to the extent that they begin to turn blue. This is when you call 911 and begin first aid.
It is a good idea to read up on baby first aid and watch YouTube tutorials so you are prepared when it comes to administering first aid on your baby. There are some great baby first aid channels with practical and easy to follow advise.
When my baby was around ten months old, I was sat with some mom friends having a coffee. He was eating an apple. He used to love holding a whole apple and munching and sucking on it.
He got off a little more then he could manage and started to choke. I noticed, laid him across my lap and proceeded to give him a series of 5 sharp blows between his shoulder blades with the heel of my hand.
He coughed it up sharpish, I sat him back on my lap and continued my conversation. He was fine, not stressed at all, just started munching away at his apple again.
I read up on a few basic baby first aid techniques before he was born. Especially important as we planned to practise baby led weaning.
It was second nature and to be honest it didn’t even phase me. You know they say that a mother could lift a car off of their baby if circumstances dictated that to be a necessary course of action. Well, I guess that was the same, but less exercise.
It can be distressing for you as a new parent to have to think about your baby being in danger, but it is better to think about and take steps to prepare yourself, rather than experience a life threatening situation and not have the first clue what to do.
The moral of the story is, read up and watch a few tutorials on baby first aid so it is lingering in the recesses of your mind in case you ever need it. You probably will not ever need it, but it is better to be prepared. You got this momma.