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Choking V's Gagging

Hi! I’m Sophie, a New Yorker in London, mother of 2 and founder of Mamamade – we’re a direct-to-consumer brand specialising in infant and toddler nutrition, with a focus on supporting parents. What started from my home kitchen in 2019 is now a community of over 40,000 – all of us sharing the highs and lows and offering a listening ear for everything life throws at us.

Weaning my two children couldn’t have been more different. Whereas my daughter breezed through - easily on 3 meals a day by 7 months - my son showed almost no interest in food until he turned 1.

Arthur was a very ‘gag-y’ baby - almost everything that touched his lips made him gag! - so I know first-hand how stressful it can be trying to figure out when to worry.

Hopefully, the below will help you spot the differences between gagging and choking so that you can respond confidently and appropriately to each scenario.

What’s gagging, and why do babies do it?

You’ve seen it before, most likely - it looks sort of like your baby’s about to vomit. And it is very common - completely normal, especially in the early days of weaning. When first starting on solids, your baby will probably gag a lot! This is because babies have highly sensitive gag reflexes that are triggered very close to the front of their mouths, especially at the start of weaning. The gag reflex will move further back as they get older and they'll gag less.

Gagging occurs because their eating skills and oral muscles aren't developed yet. They don't have the skills to control chewing and moving food to the back of their mouths to swallow, so babies gag to stop food going down the wrong way. The gag reflex is their protective mechanism against choking and is not something to be afraid of.

OK so I shouldn’t worry - but should I do anything if I see my baby gagging?

Trust me, I totally get it. Gagging can be alarming, whether or not it’s your first weaning journey. You might feel reassured to know that babies aren't usually distressed by gagging. When a baby gags, he or she will probably push food out of their mouth, and will make retching sounds as though they're going to be sick (and usually, they aren't actually sick!).

If this happens try not to panic - and try to remain calm. If you can see that they are gagging (and not choking) it's important to let the process take its natural course, as they usually work it out themselves. Try to stay calm and encouraging during mealtime. By doing this you're helping them learn how to use their oral muscles and keeping mealtime a positive experience. A bit of gagging doesn't mean mealtime is over!

Then what’s choking?

Choking is when your baby's airway becomes blocked by food or another object, and it is very different to gagging. When your baby is choking, they will be unable to cry, cough, breath or make any noise. If your baby is choking you may see their face and lips turn blue (if they have a lighter skin tone), or gums, inside of lips or fingernails may turn blue (if they have a deeper skin tone) - and it can be quite frightening to parents.

When gagging, your baby will still be able to cough, make retching noises and may also go red in the face. However, they aren't usually bothered by this and will usually return to eating as normal once the gagging episode is over (usually after 10 seconds or so).

What should I do if my baby is choking?

Back blows

Chest thrusts

Repeat the sequence until help arrives

What can I do to prevent choking?

I hope this has helped you identify the difference between gagging and choking.

Remember that gagging is a normal reaction that weaning babies have as their gag reflex is triggered while learning to eat. Choking is when their airway gets blocked, and requires immediate first aid and medical attention.

What’s your experience been? Come share with our Facebook community Mamamates.

If you would like to try our healthy, organic and plant-based meals, just use code 25COVEBABY at the Mamamade checkout to get 25% off your first three subscription boxes!

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