Choking and gagging

Little Tummy

One of the things parents are most concerned about when they introduce solids is that their little one might choke on pieces of food. Luckily, this is a very rare event. It is, nonetheless, understandable and normal to worry about these things. Almost every baby will gag when they start eating solid foods. This natural reflex often worries parents. Knowing how to deal with these situations will make you more confident in giving finger foods a try. 

What is choking?

Babies choke when something blocks their airway and they can’t cough it up. Food can block airways, but it is possible to choke on drinks or small toys as well. Remember, this is a very rare event but if it happens, the person choking will go completely silent and turn blue.


How to avoid choking:

  • Never let your child eat unsupervised
  • Any foods with a skin (e.g. cocktail tomatoes, grapes) should be cut in smaller pieces
  • Children under 5 years shouldn’t eat whole nuts
  • Make sure your little one is ready to start solids
  • Avoid any distraction such as letting your child watch TV while eating


What to do when your little one is choking:

I highly recommend booking a first aid course before you start weaning. This way you can do some dry runs and memorise what to do in case of an emergency.

What is gagging?

Our babies are incredibly smart. Their inborn gagging reflex will usually prevent any blockage of the airway. Think about what happens when, by accident, you touch the back of your throat with a toothbrush. You will trigger your own gag reflex and try to bring the object out of your mouth. The same happens to babies, only that their reflex spot sits much closer to the lips, somewhere in the area of their palate. If their reflex is triggered, they will turn red and start sputtering and coughing. 

What to do when your little one is gagging:

Stay calm and let them deal with it. It is a way of keeping them safe, any intervention might irritate them and make things worse. 

I am still worried:

It is ok to be worried. Educating yourself about the difference between gagging and choking and booking a first aid course will make you feel more confident. Start with finger foods when you and your little one feel ready, it is ok to wait. Start with soft pieces which can almost melt in your little one’s mouth, such as a softly steamed broccoli floret, a slice of avocado or a slice of mango. Take it step by step and progress as you feel more comfortable.



Loud and red, let them go ahead
Silent and blue, they need help from you

Signs of gagging:

  • Child will turn red, open mouth and thrust tongue forward
  • Child will try to bring food forward by coughing and sputtering
  • Loud and red, let them go ahead

Signs of choking:

  • Child will be silent and not make any noise
  • Child will turn blue
  • Silent and blue, they need help from you
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