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Why does my baby gag?
There are lots of possible explanations. We all have a gag reflex – it's a lifelong automatic response that helps prevent choking.
Until your baby's about 4 to 6 months old, he also has a reflex that causes him to thrust his tongue forward whenever the back of his throat is stimulated. This tongue-thrust reflex can make early feedings a bit of a challenge. Gagging on or pushing out those first spoonfuls of cereal isn't uncommon.
Prodding your baby to eat more than he wants can cause him to gag, as can having too much food (or food he doesn't like) in his mouth, even after the tongue-thrust reflex is gone.
Some babies will even gag on their own fingers until they figure out how far they can put things in their mouths. And until they get the rhythm of sucking down, some infants will gag on breast milk or formula, especially if it's flowing too quickly for them.
Gagging is a normal reflex babies have as they learn to eat solids, whether they are spoon-fed or you're doing baby-led weaning. Gagging brings food forward into your baby's mouth so he can chew it some more first or try to swallow a smaller amount. Your baby should gag less often as he develops and learns to regulate the amount of food he swallows.
How can I tell if my baby is gagging or choking?
Gagging is different from choking.Choking means your child's airway is partially or completely blocked, which prevents breathing. Here's how to recognize the difference between gagging and choking:
A child who is gagging may push his tongue forward or out of his mouth and do a retching movement to try to bring food forward. His eyes may water. He may cough or even vomit. Let your child continue to gag and cough because that's the most effective way to resolve the problem.
A child who is choking is unable to cry, cough, or gasp. He may make odd noises or no sound at all while opening his mouth. You may need to do back blows or chest thrusts to dislodge the blockage.
What can I do to minimize gagging?
Try to get your baby to relax during feedings and don't push him to eat more than he's inclined to. If he's bottle-fed, make sure the hole in the nipple is the right size. If it's too large, too much milk or formula may come at him at once.
Also make sure he's ready for solids before you introduce them. He should be at least 4 to 6 months old and able to sit upright with support.
When you think your baby's ready, start by putting a small amount of food on a spoon. Tip the spoon and place a bit of the food on the front of his tongue, rather than putting the whole spoonful in his mouth. This way, your baby can suck the rest of the food off the spoon without feeling it at the back of his throat right away.
If your baby pushes the food out with his tongue, it doesn't necessarily mean that he doesn't like it — he's probably just trying to figure out this new way of eating. Feed him slowly while he gets the hang of it.
After a few tries, he should start using his tongue to move the food to the back of his mouth. If your baby is still having trouble swallowing the food after a week, he's probably just not ready for solids yet.
Once your baby's ready for table food, keep an eye on him so that he doesn't choke while feeding himself. Cut his food up into bite-size pieces no larger than 1/2 inch and avoid foods that are choking hazards, such as whole grapes, nuts, and popcorn.
Most likely your baby will gag less as he gets more meals under his belt. If he continues to gag on pureed foods, mention it to his doctor. She can check for physical problems, just to be sure.