Baby Gagging – Is it Normal?

A happy baby lying in bed

Meet your baby’s next milestone – gagging! This might be the cause of anxiety in many parents. If you are unsure whether your little one is choking or if gagging is dangerous, then fret not. This is just another wonderful little step your baby is taking in its growth and development. Expect to see this frequently. Gagging is his body testing out new equipment and showing him how to get used to it. All babies gag in different ways, for various periods of time and react to it uniquely.

When and Why does a Baby Gag?

A mother holding her baby

You can expect to see gagging in babies right from the start when feeding begins. Their mouth is being stimulated for the first time in an unusual manner. If the flow of milk from a bottle is too much for them, they will gag as their tongue is pushing it back outwards. It is a standard evolutionary procedure.

You are very likely to see this at 4 to 6 months old when you are introducing the baby to solid food. This is much more common in babies being weaned away from mommy and the bottle. They usually try to jam a spoonful in their mouth, which reacts and says ‘No! That’s too much!’ It is essentially their body preventing choking and giving them the opportunity to chew their food better. Babies gag when they do not like food as well, so, you are going to have to interpret why your baby is gagging as your baby is an individual all on his own.

Why is Gagging Good for Babies?

Gagging is your baby’s way of testing out his mouth and this weird new thing you are introducing him to – food. It is his little body’s way of protecting itself from potentially choking. This does not mean his body is protecting him from choking. Choking means the airway is partially or entirely blocked. Gagging just means the tongue is being stimulated for the first time, or he has taken too big a morsel or finds his food new or repulsive. This is good; the back of his tongue is waking up to do its job. It is teaching your baby how to feed himself and just how long to chew his food.

As a baby starts gagging, the gag area is mid-tongue. The older he gets and the more he stimulates his mouth, the further back this area moves.

Is it Normal for Babies to Gag Frequently?

There is no straightforward answer to this. Yes, your baby will gag a lot. Sometimes it will be outside of meal times as he is sticking his own fingers down his throat to test this new oral stimulation. He will gag on a ton of things during meal time and you must be vigilant at this point. But if he is constantly gagging with no cause in sight then it could be an indication of gastroesophageal reflux where the stomach contents make their way back up to the throat. It can cause discomfort, and the baby can even choke.

When do you Need to Worry?

When your baby is constantly gagging for no apparent reason and he seems to be in a large amount of discomfort then you might want to watch him more carefully. Yes, frequent gagging is perfectly common but when it is away from mealtimes it could gastroesophageal reflux syndrome which could be a lifelong issue. This could impede the normal development of your baby’s oral stimulation. It could also cause bad eating habits as he will start to avoid foods that cause him even the mildest discomfort. Take your baby to the doctor and if there is truly an issue to worry about, the doctor will refer you to a feeding specialist.

How to Respond to Infant Gagging?

Here’s how you need to respond to your baby’s gagging.

  • Stay calm and do not overreact
  • Observe the baby and let him learn for himself
  • Choking symptoms will manifest in seconds so you only need to react then
  • Do not alarm your baby or lead him to believe this is a negative thing that must be feared
  • If he is having trouble drinking water from a cup, switch to a straw or sippy cup. Work your way back to the cup
  • Let your baby see this is a very common occurrence and he should continue to enjoy his meal

How to Reduce Gagging in Babies?

While you should not panic about gagging, sensitive gag reflex in babies call for certain measures to prevent them.

1. For Baby Gagging on Food

If your baby is gagging on foods, first slow things down. Start with things like purees with soft chunks of boiled veggies or fruit in them. Dab the puree with a spoon on your baby’s mouth or the end of his tongue. Let him take it in and swallow it on his own. Soon, he will be able to take those bigger chunks and even a spoonful in a few weeks. Watch his reactions and he will let you know what he can take. Do not mollycoddle him as he does need to develop his gagging reflex. You do not want your baby to miss out on the joy of pizza, do you?! To your delight, one day he may even grab the spoon from you and attempt to feed himself. The bonus here is he will practice and improve his gripping skills in this manner.

2. For Baby Gagging on Bottle

Potentially, a baby gags on a bottle when the flow is too quick for him. Either switch to a nipple with a smaller outlet or feed him smaller amounts. Imagine having to chug an entire jug in one go when your gag reflex is much more sensitive, this is what your baby is going through.

Gagging vs Choking in Babies :

This is the part that freaks most parents out and thankfully, it is pretty easy to tell them apart. Remember, the newborn gag reflex is delicate so gagging is very common. The main differentiator is sound. Use your ears. Your baby will make noises when he is gagging as the food makes its way out of his mouth. When he is choking, you will not hear a thing. This is why you need to be vigilant when he is eating and why small things that the little devil will happily put in his mouth, need to be kept out of reach.

When he is gagging, your baby could look frustrated but when choking he could look like he is in pain, in terror or struggling to breathe. If he is choking, his airways are partially or fully blocked. Consequently, he is not getting enough oxygen and his face, the area around his mouth or his lips will turn blue. He will start to cough as he attempts to clear his airway while gagging, he will sputter or cough only a little. Do not worry if he chokes once and you clear their airway, continue with weaning him and keep a watchful eye on him.

Whatever happens, do not deny your baby the joy of moving to solid food and feeding themselves. Give them their first step towards independence and do not let your fear of a baby gag reflex stop this. Follow these tips and enjoy this progress together.