Weaning : A complete guide to gagging and choking

Gagging (another one of those words that gains a new significance when you become a parent) is common when babies are learning to eat food with lumps and different textures. Gagging is a retching movement which is a natural reflex to protect babies from choking.

This video shows a baby gagging on (and then swallowing) a piece of broccoli.


Adults have this reflex too but you have put something much further into your mouth to trigger it than a baby would (think fingers down the throat…). As babies get older, and better able to cope with eating food, the reflex moves further back along their tongues. It’s another example of how brilliantly designed the human body is.


Gagging is not a problem unless it upsets your baby. If this is the case, you could try offering them some water or something else to eat, or a cuddle or playtime instead.


Choking is much more serious than gagging as this involves your baby’s airways being partially or completely blocked. Lots of parents fret about it – an NCT survey among parents of babies around eight months old found that half of mothers and fathers were worried about choking.


Although fears of choking can put some parents off baby led weaning, the study found that mothers who use a baby weaning approach are less likely to be worried about choking than mothers who were mainly spoon-feeding their babies. This may be because parents who feel less worried about choking are more likely to try baby led weaning.


If a baby’s airway is blocked, they will start to cough and splutter to clear it. If the airway is completely blocked though (which is unusual), the baby will be silent because no air can get through. If coughing doesn’t work or the baby is silent, the lump will need to be dislodged using standard first aid methods.


A baby first aid course will cover what to do if your baby chokes. Here is some information about giving a choking baby back blows and then chest thrusts. Or you can see a visual demonstration here. If the object has not dislodged after three cycles of back blows and chest thrusts, call for emergency medical help (999/911/000).

Don’t try and get the blockage out with your hands as you may push it further down instead.


While the prospect of a baby choking is a scary one, there are couple of simple steps which can be taken to reduce the chances of this happening:


·       Avoid obvious choking hazards (i.e. food small enough to get stuck in a child’s throat) such as nuts and whole grapes

·       Ensure your baby is sitting upright when they eat (so their gagging reflex can do its stuff)


It is also important that babies always have someone with them when they are eating, who can make sure they are ok. The chances are, of course, that they will be absolutely fine.  

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