Babies are born with an exaggerated but protective ‘hyper-gag reflex’ which can cause gagging while feeding. On top of this, babies also gag easily due to neurologic immaturity. Unfortunately, this also means that choking can occur while you are feeding your baby. Do not panic if you encounter such a situation, be prepared and take the necessary steps to keep the baby safe and we have prepared here a quick guide to help you navigate through such an incident.
Why it happens
Keep in mind that it is not abnormal to see infants choke on milk but parents and caretakers should keep yourself informed and be prepared to take swift action in order to keep the baby safe. Choking occurs when the baby takes in more milk than he or she can swallow, causing the excess milk to spill into the airway and block the flow of air.
Oversupply of milk
- This is one of the most common reason why babies choke while feeding. Although it is generally thought that an oversupply of milk is better than undersupply, an oversupply of milk might cause the flow of your milk to be faster than the speed your baby can swallow them.
- Another common cause would be forceful let-downs in some women who have a fast milk ejection reflex. This causes the milk to be released from the milk ducts in forceful, almost explosive manner. Keep an eye on your baby while feeling and look out for these signs while breastfeeding:
- Clamping down on nipple (to slow down milk flow)
- Often pulling away from breast
- Refusing to nurse
- Clicking sounds while feeding
- Choking, gagging, gulping, coughing or gasping
- Spitting up frequently
First aid for babies
At the first sign of choking (look out for difficulties in breathing, high-pitched sound when breathing in, face turns pale and bluish, can’t cry or make sounds), start first aid on choking straight away to clear the airway. Here are some tips on what to do when your baby chokes on milk:
- Hold your baby upside down along your thigh or across your forearms
- Make sure their head is lower than their bottom
- Hit them with (up to) five quick, forceful blows on their back between the shoulder blades to remove the blockage.
- Remember to support your baby’s head while you hold them in position
The strong pressure and vibration from the back blows are often enough to remove the blockage and allow then to breathe again. However, if the blockage continues, try these steps:
- Turn baby and put them down facing upwards
- Place two fingers in the middle of their chest just below the nipples and give up to five chest thrusts.
This method squeezes out the air from the baby’s lungs and may remove the air blockage. However, if your baby does not show signs of recovery or lose consciousness, continue the first aid until medical help arrives, or when you reach the nearest health clinic or hospital.
To help you find the nearest clinic to you, head over to cari@unifi
How to prevent choking
Thankfully, there are ways to prevent your baby from choking on your milk. We’ve compiled a few tips and steps that you can follow:
- Change feeding position
This is one of the first and immediate action you can take to prevent your baby from choking on milk. Here are a few positions you can try the next time you breastfeed your baby
- Laid-back position is done by lying down on a side when nursing your baby. By doing this, if the baby’s mouth gets a forceful flow or too full, the excess milk will naturally dribble out of the baby’s mouth
- The down under is another technique that you can try. As the name suggests, it involves working the milk against gravity as the mother lies down on her back while the baby is latched on top. The baby’s tummy should touch the mother’s. However, this technique could also lead to plugging of the milk ducts so please try it sparingly.
- Uphill position is another method that does the trick. In this position, the mother feeds the baby in a reclined position. Like the down under, the milk also must work against gravity to flow, thus, avoiding let-downs.
- Perhaps the most comfortable of all, nursing your baby with the football hold while leaning backwards is not only an effective feeding position but also a good way to feed your child while you’re out and about.
- Give your baby time and space
Allow your baby enough time to swallow and breathe properly every time you nurse them. You can do this by pulling the baby off your breast in short spans of time. If your instinct kicks in and you feel that a let-down is coming, unlatch your baby from your breast for about 20-30 seconds, this will help them to swallow properly.
- Don’t overstimulate your breast
Too much of anything is also a bad thing. Overstimulating your breast with unnecessary pumping, running water on them during shower or using breast shells might lead to a forceful let-down
- Switch sides
This involves breastfeeding your child one breast per feeding in order to fully empty a side. Alternatively, a similar method you can try is ‘block feeding’ where you only nurse with one breast for a few hours, helping to reduce the milk supply to the other breast.
- Proper latching
Make sure that your baby is properly latched to your nipples. Studies have shown that baby who do not latch properly often choke while breastfeeding. A proper latch helps the milk to go straight into their throat and prevents it from accumulating in the baby’s mouth.
Extra tip: For babies who are bottle-fed, try using the paced bottle-feeding method. This method keeps the bottle parallel to the ground and gives the baby ‘control’ over the milk flow. Check out our baby shops on cari@unifi here to purchase baby bottles that are safe for your babies!
All parents work hard at keeping their babies safe. It is a parent’s worst nightmare to see their child hurt or in danger. Alas, parents can’t always be there for their children, but you can keep yourself informed and prepare yourself should you ever need to save and protect your loved ones, especially when they are at their most vulnerable as an infant. We hope this has been helpful for parents out there!