Why Your Newborn Might Be Gagging During Feedings

Why Your Newborn Might Be Gagging During Feedings

When you have a particularly heavy let down of breastmilk, it is possible that your baby chokes on his milk while breastfeeding.

Your baby chokes on milk when he takes more breast milk into his mouth than he can swallow at a time. Excess milk can spill into the airway and block the flow of air, which leads to choking. It is 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 Your Baby Chokes On Milk While Nursing

Why Your Newborn Might Be Gagging During Feedings

Since it's a bit counter intuitive, mothers wonder, can a baby choke on milk? They definitely can, under certain circumstances, and it is more common than you 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:

Milk Oversupply

Although some nursing mothers prefer excess breast milk to 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.

Forceful Let-down

Excessive milk supply also leads to forceful let-downs in women who have 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?

Why Your Newborn Might Be Gagging During Feedings


There are first aid methods that dislodge the milk from blocking the airways of a choking baby. Since babies have delicate bodies, you must do this 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. Give the thrusts hard and quickly, and slightly upwards into the child’s abdomen.
  • Turn the baby upside down and give him intermittent back blows and chest thrusts combined with gentle taps to the back, to open up the airways. Give the chest thrusts with two or three fingers on the lower half of the breastbone, while supporting the head with the other hand. Continue this 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

Why Your Newborn Might Be Gagging During Feedings


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.
  • 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.
  • Ensure that your baby latches on to your breasts properly. A baby who does not have a deep latch may choke often while feeding. The milk which should go straight down into his throat may accumulate in his mouth. But a firm latch will help him handle the flow of milk better.
  • You'll find the uphill nursing position is also greatly beneficial. Your milk has to work against gravity to flow and it avoids letdowns. Have the baby feed in your arms as you recline on a surface.
  • Use the down under position to feed the baby, it 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. Don't do this too often, as it can plug the milk ducts.
  • The football hold, while leaning backwards, is also great for nursing, especially 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.

Avoid choking in babies, while they are nursing, take precautionary measures before and during feeding.

Also read: Breast milk oversupply: Blessing or burden?

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