Baby Choking While Breastfeeding: Causes, Remedies & Prevention

Baby Choking While Breastfeeding: Reasons & How To Avoid It

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Arti Sharma (Paediatrician)
View more Paediatrician Our Panel of Experts

A lot of parents eagerly anticipate feeding time with their infants. You get a chance to connect while also getting some quiet time. Yet, some bottle-fed or breastfed babies may make gagging or choking noises, which is worrying if you’re a new parent. Thankfully, you may take steps to lessen the risk of your baby choking on breastmilk or formula.

Choking occurs when your baby takes more milk into its mouth than he can swallow. Excess milk can spill into the airway and block airflow, leading to choking. It can be frightening for any mother to see her baby coughing and sputtering milk while struggling to breathe. However, with a good understanding of how it occurs, avoiding this problem while feeding your baby is possible.


Why Do Infants Choke While Nursing?

A mother breastfeeding her baby

Since it is a bit counter-intuitive, many mothers wonder, can a baby choke on milk? They definitely can, under certain circumstances, and it is more common than one might think. Excess milk and poor feeding positions are the most common reasons babies choke while feeding. Here are two ways that this happens:

1. Milk Oversupply

Although some nursing mothers consider having excess breast milk better than having an insufficient milk supply, it carries its own set of discomforts for both the mother and the baby. An oversupply of milk means you must try different positions for a comfortable feed.

2. Forceful Let-down

Excessive milk supply also leads to forceful let-downs in some women with a fast Milk Ejection Reflex. The milk releases from their milk ducts forcefully, almost explosively. Look for these signs in your baby while feeding:

  • Choking, gagging, gulping, coughing, or gasping while feeding
  • Clamping down on the nipple to slow down the milk flow
  • Pulling away from the breast often
  • Spitting up frequently
  • Clicking sounds while feeding
  • Refusing to nurse

What to Do When Your Baby Chokes While Breastfeeding?

When you find your baby choking on milk, there are first aid methods that can be used to dislodge the milk from blocking the airway. Since babies have delicate bodies, it must be done with caution. Here are some tips for when babies choke on milk:

  • Pick up the baby while supporting the head and put your arm around the baby’s chest, while bending it forward slightly. Place a clenched fist on the baby’s navel, place the other hand over the fist, and thrust inward. The thrusts should be given hard, quickly, and slightly upwards into the child’s abdomen.
  • Babies can also be turned upside down and given intermittent back blows, chest thrusts combined with gentle back taps to open the airways. The chest thrusts should be given with two or three fingers on the lower half of the breastbone while supporting the head with the other hand. This should be continued until the block is removed.
  • Stay Calm. Feeling anxious or scared is natural, but staying calm can help you respond better and avoid panicking, which may worsen the situation. Remove your baby from the breast. Take your baby off the breast immediately to prevent them from inhaling milk.
  • Hold Your Baby Upright. Hold your baby upright, facing down on your forearm. Use your other hand to support your head and neck. Give five back blows on your baby’s head lower than their chest; use the heel of your hand to give five back blows between their shoulder blades. Be gentle but firm.

It’s important to note that if the baby doesn’t recover and becomes unconscious, he should be rushed to the nearest hospital, while still being administered the dislodging procedure.

How to Prevent Your Baby From Choking While Breastfeeding

You can control an oversupply problem and prevent the baby from choking in several ways. Here are some tips for the same:

  • Slowing down your milk supply is a good place to start, as forceful let-down occurs when there is too much accumulation of milk in the breasts. While breastfeeding from one side, say the left side, with the palm of the right hand, press the nipple of the right breast in towards the ribs and count to five. When applied several times per feed, this counter pressure sends a signal to the body not to let down milk in that breast.
  • Feed from only one breast, per feeding, so the breast can be fully emptied with the added benefit of receiving all the fat-rich hind milk. This would make them feel full and stop the feed. You can also try what is known as “block feeding”, a technique where the baby is fed only through one breast for a block of time, lasting a few hours. This reduces the milk supply in the other breast before you switch the breast for the next block.
  • Ensure the baby is latched properly. It has been observed that babies who do not have a deep latch on the nipples choke often while feeding. The milk, which is supposed to go straight down into their throat, accumulates in the mouth when babies latch improperly. On the other hand, a firm latching can help babies better handle the flow of milk.
  • Adopting an uphill nursing position is also greatly beneficial, as the milk has to work against gravity to flow, and it avoids letdowns. Having the baby feed in your arms as you recline on a surface, is also a good nursing position.
  • The down-under position can also be used to feed the baby, which works the milk against gravity. The mother lies down on her back, and the baby is on top, so the baby’s tummy touches the mother’s. This shouldn’t, however, be done too often, as it can lead to the plugging of the milk ducts.
  • The football hold, while leaning backwards, is also an effective feeding position. It is also a good way to nurse when you are out with your baby.
  • When the other breast feels uncomfortable, you can express some milk from it and apply a cool compress to relieve the discomfort. As you continue this procedure, express lesser milk, until there is no need to do so.
  • Avoid stimulating the breast through unnecessary pumping, running water on them during a shower, or using breast shells.

How Often Should You Feed Your Baby?

It is important to understand that excessive milk can harm your baby as well, so even if you have an oversupply of milk produced, all of it need not be fed to the baby. You can always pump out the excess if required. Feed your baby as long as he is satiated. Look out for signs of hunger in your baby, which are usually if he:

  1. turns towards the breasts when picked up
  2. imitates sucking motions
  3. his hands in the mouth
  4. has sudden bursts of excitement

When to Call a Doctor?

If your baby chokes while breastfeeding, it can be a scary experience for you and your baby. If your baby is choking but can still cough or make noises, it may be able to clear its airway on its own. However, if your baby cannot breathe, turns blue, or becomes unconscious, it is important to call emergency services immediately.

Here are some other signs that may indicate you need to call a doctor after your baby chokes while breastfeeding:

  • Your baby has difficulty breathing: If it is wheezing or struggling to breathe, it is important to seek medical attention immediately.
  • Your baby is coughing persistently: If your baby is coughing continuously or has a persistent cough after choking, you should contact your doctor.
  • Your baby appears distressed: If your baby appears distressed, is unable to calm down or is inconsolable after choking, you should call your doctor.
  • Your baby is not feeding well: If your baby refuses to breastfeed or seems to have difficulty latching on after choking, you should contact your doctor.
  • Your baby has a fever: If your baby has a fever after choking, it may indicate an infection, and you should contact your doctor.

If you are concerned about your baby’s health or have any doubts about its condition, it is always better to avoid caution and contact your doctor. They can guide you and help ensure your baby receives the necessary medical attention.

An ideal amount of feedings is between 8-12 feeds daily, each lasting 30-40 minutes. However, this number may differ for each baby, based on growth spurts, metabolism, etc. Let your baby feed until he is satisfied, which happens when the baby automatically let’s go, rather than limiting sessions. You’re feeding him enough as long as your baby is healthy and not hungry.

Precautionary measures taken before and during feeding can avoid choking in babies, while they are being nursed.


1. Can Newborns Choke on Milk While Sleeping on Their Back?

It is possible for a newborn to choke on milk while sleeping on their back, although it is rare. This is because newborns have a natural instinct to turn their heads or cough if they have trouble breathing or if their airway is blocked. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends placing babies on their backs to sleep to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). However, it is important to ensure your baby’s head is slightly elevated when sleeping on their back to prevent milk or saliva from pooling in their mouth and potentially blocking their airway.

2. Does Reflux Cause Newborn to Choke?

Yes, reflux can cause a newborn to choke. When a newborn has reflux, the contents of their stomach can come back up into their throat, causing them to gag, cough, or choke. The acid from the stomach can also irritate the baby’s airways and cause breathing difficulties. If you suspect your baby has reflux, it is important to speak to your paediatrician. They can recommend strategies to help manage the condition and reduce the risk of an infant choking on milk or other complications.

3. Why Is a Baby Choking on Bottle Feeding?

A baby may choke on bottle feeding for several reasons, including:

  • The flow of milk is too fast
  • Improper bottle-feeding position
  • Overfeeding
  • Medical conditions.
  • Bottle or nipple design.

It is important to take steps to prevent newborns from choking on milk while bottle feeding, such as using the right size and shape of the nipple, keeping your baby upright during feeding, and monitoring the milk flow. If you are concerned

Also Read:

Baby Crying While Breastfeeding
Baby Sweating during Breastfeeding
Cold Medicine during Breastfeeding

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