All Your Gagging Questions Answered

Baby Led Weaning The Difference between Gagging and Choking
Transitioning your child from breastmilk or formula to solid foods is an exciting milestone for both babies and parents. Many parents get the go-ahead from their pediatrician to start solids when their child is at around 6 months of age. This milestone can be met with feelings of both excitement and maybe a few questions. You finally get to share your favorite foods with your baby, put together that new highchair, and share first bite photos in your family group chat. But now you’ve also got some questions. Could my baby choke on these new foods?

Excitement aside, one of the most common worries for parents when introducing solids is the possibility of their baby choking. This is a concern we get asked a lot about from parents who have chosen to follow baby-led weaning

Read on for tips on how to tell the difference between gagging and choking, and safely introducing your little one to their first bites. 

What is the difference between gagging and choking?

All babies gag during their eating journey - they gag when they breast or bottle feed, and when they start solids. It’s one way that they learn how to eat. Knowing the difference between choking and gagging can help you feel confident as you enter into this next milestone in your little one’s feeding journey. 

The most important thing to remember when determining if your baby is choking or gagging is that a baby who is gagging will turn red and make loud noises, while a baby who is choking will start to turn blue and be silent.

Signs your baby is gagging 

First thing to remember: gagging is a completely normal, natural protective reflex and often happens a lot during the weaning journey as your baby learns how to eat solids. Gagging is simply a contraction of your baby's pharynx (part of their throat), to assist in pushing up food and to stop the swallowing reflex. In early infancy a baby's gag reflex is in the middle area of the tongue/mouth. At around 6-7 months, the gag reflex starts to move further towards the back of the tongue which helps them begin to eat more easily. 

So what’s going on here? When the gag reflex is triggered by something in the throat, it forces the back of the throat to close, which is meant to prevent swallowing. This reaction forces the food up towards the front of the tongue, and even out of their mouth.

While it could look and feel alarming to a parent, a gagging baby does not require caregiver intervention. Try to stay cool as a cucumber and monitor your child closely as they learn how to manipulate and extract the food on their own.

What does gagging look and sound like?

  • When a baby is gagging, they will be loud. You’ll hear sounds like coughing, gurgling, and making gagging noises just like we might when our gag reflex is triggered. 
  • Their tongue will thrust forward, and they’ll spit up the food they were eating. 
  • Their face will likely turn red as their body strains.
  • In some cases they will vomit the food up.

Babies who follow baby-led weaning and are introduced to a wide variety of textures may have a tendency to gag in the beginning of their food journey, but less later on as their oral-motor skills develop more rapidly than babies who are spoon-fed thin purees. 

But it’s okay. Really. Successful eating will allow your baby to develop the skills to know that their food is chewed “enough” to swallow safely.

Signs your baby is choking

Unlike gagging, choking is a sign that a piece of food has partially or completely blocked your baby's airway, and their gag reflex did not successfully force it out. Choking is something very serious that should not be taken lightly. It is a potentially life threatening situation and requires immediate intervention. If your baby is choking, administer first aid and call 911 immediately.

What does choking look and sound like?

  • When a baby is choking they will be silent
  • They will have trouble coughing, or won’t cough at all
  • A choking child will have trouble breathing
  • A choking baby’s face will turn blue (as opposed to red when gagging)

Before introducing your baby to solids we recommend taking a first-aid course from a certified instructor to arm you with the information of what to do in the event that your baby does choke. Here is an official guide on how to stop choking.


How to avoid choking when following baby-led weaning

Preventing your baby from choking can be as simple as: following your child's readiness cues, supervising your child as they eat, sticking to the recommended size of foods, and warming foods until it’s extra soft and mushy and being present with your child when they are eating. 

Following these steps can support the introduction of more textured foods to your little foodie an enjoyable experience. 

Now that you are familiar with the difference between gagging and choking you are armed with knowledge to confidently support your little one in their food journey. Look to select foods that incorporate a variety of textures - like Tiny! Our meals were designed to introduce your baby to a variety of textures and foster a lifelong positive relationship with food. 

A Tiny Reminder: All health-related content on this website is for informational purposes only. If your child is having a health emergency call 911 or your emergency medical provider immediately. 

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