One of the most popular topics of conversation I have between my clients is making sure that their babies will be safe when starting solids. For many, this fear is what keeps parents from offering finger foods (known as baby led weaning) to their children and sticking to purees. It is very important for parents to know the difference between gagging and choking so that they can be confident and prepared when starting solids with their babies.
First, gagging and choking are completely different. Knowing the signs is very important and can help instill self-confidence. Gagging is actually a very important mechanism for babies because it is a way for them to protect their airways and protect them from choking. The gag reflex is automatic, it is triggered involuntarily. The back of the throat will close, allowing babies to push food forward on their own. A baby's gag reflex is very sensitive until about 9 months. This is because the gag reflex is located in the middle of the tongue, which is closer to the mouth. This is again, a safety mechanism. As the baby get's older, the gag reflex moves further back, moving from the middle of the tongue to the back of the throat, still always protecting the airway. Because the gag reflex in babies is closer to the mouth, it is so important for parents not to try and remove the food by sticking their fingers in the mouth to try and swipe it out. This could push the food past the gag reflex, making it dangerous for the baby. Gagging HELPS prevent choking. It is a very common occurrence that is part of a baby's learning process when starting solids.
The main difference between gagging and choking is that gagging is noisy and dramatic, while choking is silent. If your baby is gagging, it will be loud; there will most likely be coughing involved and maybe even vomiting. If your baby is choking, there will be no noise. They will be silent because food is completely blocking the airway. Immediate intervention is required if your baby is choking.
What can you do to help feel more prepared? I first and foremost recommend that every parent and care-giver take a CPR course to know how to respond if there is an emergency. Babies should always be sitting up right when eating, not in a laying or angled position. They should be offered SAFE shaped finger foods and purees to reduce the chances of choking.
Oh Baby Academy Safe Eating: Choking vs. Gagging
Solid Starts: Gagging
Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog post is for educational purposes only, and is not intended to substituted for professional medical advice.