What you need to know about babies and gagging and how to keep your baby safe.
A common question I receive from parents is about how much gagging is okay when a baby is first starting solid foods. While this is a hard question to answer definitively, I will try and provide a few guidelines to ease your mind.
Gagging vs Choking: A Reminder
Gagging is a normal part of the learning process. A baby’s gag reflex is much closer to the front of their mouth than an adult’s, meaning it is much easier for them to gag on food. Gagging means your baby is learning, and is not necessarily a bad thing. Choking, on the other hand, can be very serious. Choking is when food gets lodged in a baby’s throat and prevents breathing.
I hate the thought of scaring anyone, but I do want parents to be prepared. Your baby is likely to have one or more episodes during their time learning to eat that will appear to be very close to choking. Know that it is rare for babies to truly choke, but that is why it is important that you practice safe feeding habits and are always monitoring your baby with food. Someone in your house should also be up to date on infant CPR. This is not specific to baby self-feeding, but really, any type of feeding! Safety should always come first.
For more helpful tips on starting solids, grab my First Foods Printable!
Handling the Inevitable Gagging Instances
A few tips:
1. Hold back your fear.
Easier said than done, but give your baby time to work out how to handle the food by themselves. Being hyperactive when it comes to gagging can cause your baby to be scared going forward. In the case of the more intense forms of gagging (including at times small amounts of vomit), it can cause more harm than good. So bottom line is take a deep breath, pause to fully assess, and then act.
2.Check the food.
Sometimes, we need to reassess what we are giving. I recently found that I was in this boat, even though I do this for a living and know all the safety rules! My daughter gagged a few times on a food and then wasn’t interested in trying it again the next time I served it. I was running through the potential issues when I picked up the food and realized that while I thought I was serving it properly, it was actually much too hard for her to manage! When babies are starting, make sure that you can smush whatever food you provide between two fingers. As they get older, you can start to make food harder, as long as you continue to listen to your baby and assess if the texture is right for them.
3. Modify the food.
One thing I find reassuring is having a resource that provides the appropriate textures and sizes for foods, especially when you are first getting started. Unfortunately, I can tell you all day that a food should be safe and cause no issues, but every baby is different. A resource for food preparation is incredibly beneficial, but you still need to modify for your own baby. An example might be that from a safety standpoint, a certain type of bread is perfectly acceptable for a baby my daughter’s age. But when I give it to her, she tends to gag a lot and has a hard time managing it. The best thing to do would be to either modify how it is served, or hold off on serving it for a week or more to allow her skills to develop.
How Much Gagging Is Okay?
It depends on your baby. Are they consistently gagging on the same food? If yes, then check the steps above. Are they gagging on most foods? Check the texture you’re serving to make sure it’s appropriate for their age. When they gag, is it in the front of their mouth or all the way back towards their throat? Oftentimes babies take a little bit of time to learn the best way to manage a mouthful of food. As long as the food you are serving is safe, it is likely ok to keep going.
Food management is a skill and not something innate. Make sure you are taking a breathe and pausing to evaluate what is actually going on. In rare circumstances there might be something deeper at play if your baby is gagging on all foods consistently. If you think that is the case, contact your doctor for an evaluation. It is unlikely to be related to whether you are following baby self-feeding or traditional weaning if something deeper is at play. You can also find me on Instagram or through my contact form if you are in need of some more guidance on figuring out what you are dealing with.
Gagging is a normal part of learning to eat, and is bound to happen. Knowing what foods are safe and appropriate for your baby at each stage is vital. Once you know that, listen to your parenting intuition and seek help if you think what your baby is dealing with is more than just the normal process of learning to eat.