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Choking occurs when your baby takes more milk into its mouth than it can swallow at a time. Excess milk can spill into the airway and block the flow of air, which leads to choking. It can be a frightening sight for any mother to see her baby coughing and sputtering milk while struggling to breathe. However, with a good understanding of how it occurs, it is possible to avoid this problem while feeding your baby.
Why Do Infants Choke While Nursing?
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 coupled with poor feeding positions is the most common reason why 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 insufficient milk supply, it carries its own set of discomforts for both the mother and the baby. An oversupply of milk means you will need to try different positions for a comfortable feed.
2. Forceful Let-down
Excessive milk supply also leads to forceful let-downs in some women who have what is called a fast Milk Ejection Reflex. The milk releases from their milk ducts in a forceful, almost explosive manner. 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 and quickly, and slightly upwards into the child’s abdomen.
- Babies can also be turned upside down and given intermittent back blows and chest thrusts combined with gentle taps to the back, to open up 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.
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?
There are several ways in which you can control an oversupply problem and prevent the baby from choking. Here are some tips on that:
- 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. This counter pressure, when applied several times per feed, 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 milk supply in the other breast before you switch the breast for the next block.
- Ensure that your baby is latched on to your breasts properly. A baby who does not have a deep latch may choke often while feeding. The milk which is supposed to go straight down into his throat may accumulate in his mouth. On the other hand, a firm latch can help him handle the flow of milk better. In order to find out whether your baby is latching on to your breasts properly or not, refer to our Breastfeeding Tracker. Using this tracker, you will sail smoothly through your nursing phase. Information on latching techniques, breastfeeding positions, increasing breast milk supply, storing breast milk, and more will equip you, and you will be able to nourish your child the right way.
- 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, such that the baby’s tummy touches the mother’s. This shouldn’t, however, be done too often, as it can lead to 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 in the form of 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/she is satiated. Look out for signs of hunger in your baby, which are usually if he/she:
- turns towards the breasts when picked up
- imitates sucking motions
- has his/her hands in the mouth
- has sudden bursts of excitement
An ideal amount of feedings is between 8-12 feeds a day, 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/she is satisfied, which happens when the baby automatically let’s go, rather than limiting sessions. As long as your baby is healthy and not hungry, your’e feeding him/her enough.
Precautionary measures taken before and during feeding can avoid choking in babies, while they are being nursed.