Gagging in Babies – Is it Normal?

Baby Gagging - Is it Normal?

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Meet your baby’s next milestone – gagging! It might make you a bit anxious, especially if you are a first-time parent. Chances are that you will mistake it for choking. But gagging and choking in babies is not the same. When your little one starts gagging, don’ worry. It is a wonderful little step your baby is taking towards his growth and development. All babies gag in different ways, for various periods of time and react to it uniquely. Your little one may gag while learning to eat solids, especially when you try to wean him off. Read on to know more about it!

When and Why Do Babies Gag?

A mother holding her baby

Mostly, babies gag right from the time when they start feeding. You can expect your baby to gag right from the start. It is the time when his mouth will be stimulated for the first time in an unusual manner. If the flow of milk from a bottle is too much for him, he might gag as his tongue will push it back outwards. It is a standard evolutionary procedure.

You are also likely to notice your baby gagging when he turns about 4 to 6 months old when you introduce solid food to your baby. This is much more common in babies who are being weaned off. When they eat solid food or try to chew the food, they may gag. It is essentially their body preventing them from choking and giving them the opportunity to chew their food better. Babies may also tend to gag when they don’t like a particular food. So, you will need to try and understand the reason that might be making your little one to gag.

Why Is Gagging Good for Babies?

Gagging is a baby’s way of testing out his mouth and the food introduced to him. It is his body’s way of protecting itself from potential choking. This does not mean his body is protecting him from choking. If your baby is gagging, it just means that his tongue is being stimulated for the first time or that he has taken too big a morsel. It also indicates that he finds his food repulsive. But gagging because of these reasons is good; it’s a sign that the back of his tongue is waking up to do its job. It is teaching your baby how to feed himself and for 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 will move.

Is it Normal for Babies to Gag Frequently?

There is no straightforward answer to this. Yes, babies gag a lot. If your baby gags a lot on a daily basis or when trying to chew a particular food, he might develop a dislike for those foods. Your little one is likely to gag a lot during his mealtimes, so be vigil. If he is constantly gagging for no apparent reason, it could then be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux (GERD). GERD occurs when the stomach contents make their way back up to the throat. It may cause some discomfort to your baby.

When Should You Worry?

If your baby is constantly gagging for no apparent reason and is in discomfort, then you might want to watch him more carefully. Yes, frequent gagging is perfectly common but when it is not during mealtimes, it could indicate gastroesophageal reflux. This could impede the normal development of your baby’s oral stimulation. It could also lead to bad eating habits in him as he might avoid foods that cause him even the mildest discomfort. Consult a paediatrician if required to help him feel better.

What Should You Do When Your Baby Gags?

If your baby is gagging, you don’t need to get anxious. Here’s how you should handle it.

  • Stay calm and do not overreact because it won’t help.
  • Observe your baby and let him learn for himself.
  • If the symptoms of choking manifest in, identify them and take necessary actions.
  • Do not alarm your baby or lead him to believe that gagging is a negative thing.
  • If he is having trouble drinking water from a cup, switch to a straw or sippy cup. Work your way back to the cup.
  • Whatever you feed your baby, it should be given in the form of a semi-solid paste. And don’t worry your baby will stop gagging as he grows older.

How to Prevent Gagging in Babies

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

1. When Your Baby Gags While Eating.

If your baby is gagging while having food or trying to chew on food, consider giving him purees with soft chunks of boiled veggies or boiled 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 swallow. Do not force him to eat as he needs to develop his gagging reflex. 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. When Your Baby Gags While Being Fed Through a Bottle.

Your baby may gag on a bottle if the flow from the bottle 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.

What Is the Difference Between Gagging and Choking?

This is the part that freaks most parents out but 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 the sound. 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 while he chews his food. You must also keep small things out of his reach or your little devil will happily put them in his mouth.

While gagging, your baby could seem frustrated but while choking on to something, he will be in pain. He might even struggle to breathe. If he is choking, his airways will be partially or fully blocked. As a result, he may not get enough oxygen and his face, the area around his mouth or his lips would turn blue. He will start coughing as he attempts to clear his airway while gagging. He may even sputter or cough only a little. Do not worry if he chokes once and you clear his airway, continue weaning him and be careful.

Whatever happens, do not deny your baby the joy of transitioning from breast milk to solid foods and feeding themselves. Keep an eye on him – your little one will be just fine!