How to Keep Your Baby from Choking

Published August 17, 2018
By Renae D'Andrea

When most people look at a baby that is gagging, they get incredibly anxious. I can't tell you how many times parents who want to start with baby led weaning tell me they can't because they're afraid of their baby choking. And it’s not just parents! It’s grandparents and random strangers that get anxious, too. They want to jump in and help, or never give that food again. But that is not the best answer!

Gagging is not bad

Gagging is a safety mechanism that babies have to keep foods from going down their throat. It can be loud and dramatic, and can even induce vomiting. Scary, for sure.

But normal! As hard as that is to hear, it’s normal! It’s what happens sometimes when your baby is learning to manipulate food in their mouth. Your baby needs time to learn and work it out themselves. 

In an adult, our gag reflex is much closer to the back of our mouths, and not very easy to activate with normal chewing and swallowing. A baby’s gag reflex is much closer to the front of their mouth. Think of this as added assurance and feedback to help prevent the food from getting back to their throat when it shouldn’t. As they get older, it will move towards the back of their throat. Hopefully, by this time, they will have learned how to manipulate the food in their mouth well!

Gagging vs Choking

So how do you know the difference between gagging, which you shouldn’t intervene in, and choking that you should? Well choking is usually silent, or no air coming out. It can also be more along the lines of gasping if your baby's airway is partially blocked.

Now here’s the thing with gasping. Our usual response to a baby gasping might be to hit them on the back. But that’s exactly what you should not do. It could lodge the food further into their throat. If your baby is coughing to try to get the food up, that’s the best thing that can happen. 

So what should you do? Well, frankly, someone, or even all adults, in your house should be CPR certified. At a minimum, find some reliable online videos on what to do if a child chokes. Knowing what to do when or if your baby chokes is the safest thing you can do. That is not at all restricted to a baby-led style of feeding, either. Kids under 5 are at a high risk of choking on lots of different things. It’s best to be prepared. 


The other way to help relieve your anxiety and reduce the risk of your baby choking? Prevention!

It’s actually not incredibly common for babies practicing baby led weaning to choke. Gag? That’s a different story, but as we said, gagging is not necessarily bad. So how can you actually prevent choking?

Make sure your food is prepared properly:

  • Everything should be smooshable between your thumb and forefinger when first starting to feed your baby. Think of it as you want your baby’s tongue to be able to smoosh it against the roof of their mouth. Only advance this slowly as your baby gets more competent in eating. 
  • Never give your baby any round or circular item uncut. This includes hot dogs, grapes, and cherry tomatoes, for example.
  • No hard candy or popcorn.
  • Nut butters should be spread on a piece of bread of stirred into yogurt or applesauce. Just giving a spoonful is a choking hazard.
  • While apples are something you might commonly see babies practicing a baby-led feeding style eating in pictures, research shows they are actually the number one food that causes choking! So make sure you don’t give a raw whole or cut apple to your baby.

More: For more help with baby led weaning and how to help your baby succeed with eating, be sure to check out this article with a comprehensive guide to baby led weaning and first baby foods!

You or another adult should always be watching your baby.

This means that if your baby is sitting on your lap, someone else should be sitting across from you watching them. You always want eyes on your baby incase your baby does choke and you need to intervene quickly.

Your baby should be sitting up at 90 degrees, always. 

Not lying back in a stroller, not in a carseat, not roaming around the house. Sitting at 90 degrees. This reduces the risk for choking drastically! 

Follow these methods, and your baby's risk of choking goes down exponentially! 

Last Thoughts

As hard as it can be for us to listen to our baby gagging, it truly is okay! Now if your baby is continuously gagging on a certain food, be sure to check that it’s prepared properly for their skill level. But know that gagging and choking aren’t interchangeable, and you don’t need to intervene in gagging. It’s okay if it happens, and doesn’t mean that they are in danger, or choking!

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