Starting solids: the difference between gagging and choking

Starting solids or baby-lead weaning, is an exciting milestone for parents and baby. The key is to begin slowly by introducing a variety of tastes and textures.

Parents may feel a little nervous to begin with as there’s lots to learn about, particularly dealing with the potential risk of baby choking. It’s an understandable concern. Nobody wants their baby to choke. The good news is, that there’s lots you can do to help your baby learn how to bite and chew with confidence.

Here we look at the difference between gagging and choking:

What is gagging?

Babies are meant to gag. This might include coughing, spluttering, grunting, regurgitating food, tears welling in their eyes and redness in their face.

Gagging happens when your baby tries to swallow a piece of food that’s too big OR a bit of food goes further back in their mouth than they were ready for. Their brain steps in (it’s a reflex, they don’t even think) and tells them to gag or cough to move the food back to the front of their mouth. This is a GREAT thing. This reflex protects babies from choking and helps them to learn to bite and chew safely.

If your baby is gagging, your job is to sit opposite them, keep your hands in your lap and cough for them to copy (The Baby Mealtimes membership includes videos of babies gagging, to help you to understand what to look for).

Now, let’s talk choking…

What is choking?

Babies are NOT meant to choke. During a choking episode a baby is unable to make any noise (because the food is lodged in their throat) or they may start turning blue around the lips.

Choking is something you need to respond to. Pull your baby out of the chair and perform choking first aid. You can watch a video about this in Baby Mealtimes or register for an online or in-person baby first aid course.

As you might start to realise, gagging and choking are completely different things. We want babies to gag, so they can keep themselves safe. We don’t want babies to choke though, so our job is to offer them food of an appropriate size and texture.

What to do next…

If you are feeling worried about choking, please know you’re not alone. You can join the incredibly supportive Baby Mealtimes community now for help with suitable textures, recipes and foods for your baby, including a guide of 170+ finger foods.

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