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Weaning Advice

Gagging v Choking

4 min read

The weaning journey is, no doubt, an exciting step in your baby’s life. However, moving your baby from solely milk to food does not come without its worries.

Many parents name choking as being one of their biggest worries. In this blog, nutritionist Charlotte Stirling-Reed provides some weaning tips.

Babies are born with a sensitive gag reflex, but parents and carers often confuse this for choking. Knowing the difference and what to do in these situations can help put your mind at ease and reduce the risks.

What is the Difference Between Gagging and Choking for Babies?

Gagging is a completely natural and protective reflex that babies have and will frequently occur as they learn to eat. Gagging helps them regulate the amount of food they can handle in their mouth and is there to prevent them from choking.

Choking, however, happens when something gets lodged in the back of the throat, blocking the airway and preventing them from breathing.

How to Tell the Difference Between Your Baby Gagging and Choking

So how can you tell the difference? What are the signs?

Gagging

Gagging will present itself as:

  • Pushing their tongue forward or out of the mouth.
  • Retching or vomiting to bring the food forward.
  • They may have watery eyes.
  • They may splutter and cough.

If your baby is gagging, you do not need to intervene, and they will work through this on their own.

Choking

However, if they are choking:

  • Their face will start going blue.
  • They may go quiet or silent.
  • They may have an ineffective cough or no cough at all.

These signs mean you need to step in immediately.

First, shout for help! If you can see the item and it is outside of the mouth, remove it (do not put your fingers into your baby’s mouth, this could push the food further back and make it worse).

Blow backs can also be used, and more information on this can be found on the NHS website - and it’s worthwhile doing some first aid training before you start weaning.

A mother playing with her baby during weaning mealtime

How Can I Prevent My Child from Choking?

Whilst you can minimise the risk of choking, you cannot completely prevent it. Knowledge on first aid, your baby’s readiness for weaning and knowledge on how to prepare food should make you feel more confident for your baby’s mealtimes. 

First of all, enrolling on a baby first aid course before you start weaning is recommended. Traditionally, these courses would have been in person, but many courses are now available online from the comfort in your own home. It’s well worth the peace of mind of having completed some training if, unfortunately, you are confronted with a choking situation.

Next, you want to establish that your baby is ready for food. The mains signs for this are:

  • They can hold their head and stay in a sitting position.
  • They have eye, hand and mouth coordination - this means they can see their food, pick it up and put it in their mouth.
  • They can swallow food and are not pushing it all back out.

You’ll normally see these three signs together from around six months old.

When it comes to food, examples of choking hazards are those foods that are hard, small and round or have bones. These will need to be prepared correctly to ensure they are safe for your baby to eat.

  • Ensure small round foods are cut into smaller pieces (grapes, large blueberries, cherry tomatoes etc.).
  • Remove stones and pips from fruits and vegetables and bones from fish. 
  • Remove tough skins from fruits and vegetables.
  • Cook hard fruits and vegetables until they are soft. You should be able to easily squeeze them between your finger and thumb.
  • You can grate hard foods such as cheese, carrots, apples and pears.
  • Only offer nuts if they are crushed or in smooth nut butter.
  • Do not offer hard sweets, popcorn or raw jelly cubes.
  • And remember, never leave your child alone when eating!

A baby being fed with a spoon during weaning

As your child grows, they will become more confident with food and gagging should occur less often, but for now, we hope this has left you feeling reassured that the weaning journey can be a fun one!

Charlotte Stirling-Reed

Nutrition Consultant, Babease
BSc, MSc, RNutr. Specialist in maternal, infant and child nutrition.
www.srnutrition.co.uk

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