During their first months of life, babies are expected to exclusively feed on breast milk. At this time they are learning new skills - such as how to latch onto their mom’s breast, alternate between breathing and drinking and coughing to clear their airways. While feeding, as happens with adults, food can enter the wrong passage and cause choking.
It can be alarming but this act of gasping for air or trying to cough is your baby’s way of trying to clear their passage. Let’s look at why this happens and how you can help your baby when he or she chokes.
Why Is My Baby Choking?
Babies choke for similar reasons adults do - their airways are obstructed. New parents might find that this happens when they are being fed due to a heavy letdown from their mom. Breast milk is usually based on a demand made by the baby but the child cannot control how rapidly the milk flows. Some signs that your letdown could be the cause for choking include:
Choking when nursing
Pulling off your breast often
Milk leaking from the sides of the mouth
Clamping down on your nipple as if to slow down the flow of breast milk
Making a clicking sound while nursing
Having frequent spit up
You can help by adjusting your feeding position so you are reclined and your baby is positioned at a higher angle. You can try expressing some of your milk before each feed and allow the letdown to slow before having your baby latch.
Conditions such as dysphagia can also contribute to your infant choking on liquids. Dysphagia is a condition that makes it difficult for food to pass from the mouth into the throat through the oesophagus. Some signs of dysphagia in babies are:
Difficulty coordinating sucking and swallowing
Gagging during feeding
Liquids coming up through nose after feeding
Frequent spit up after feeding
If your physician confirms that the reason for choking is indeed dysphagia, you will be given tips on how to make feeding time less eventful. Your child might also need speech and occupational therapy so it is important that it be diagnosed as early as possible.
What Should I Do If My Child Chokes on Liquids?
When your child chokes on a liquid the reaction will be somewhat different from choking on a solid object. Both can require intervention on your part as your child might not have a powerful enough cough to dislodge the object or liquid causing them to choke.
The first step in helping your infant when he or she seems to be choking on liquids, such as your milk during feedings, is to assess the situation.
Check to ensure there are no other possible causes for the choking such as a foreign object in the airways. Usually, if there is a foreign object involved your child will turn red or blue from the effort and/or inability to breathe.
If you confirm that your child is indeed choking on a liquid you can position the baby face down to allow him or her to cough up the liquid. You could also use a syringe bulb to further clear their airway.
If this does not help, keep the baby face down and administer five firm blows to the child’s back. This should further clear the airways.
Turn the child face up and place two fingers at the center of the infant's breastbone then give five quick chest compressions.
This combination should completely clear the obstruction. Sometimes despite your best efforts, your baby might not have cleared all the liquid in their lungs and need to be examined by your physician to ensure there is no further threat.
How to Prevent Choking in Babies
Steps can be taken to prevent your child from choking during and after feedings.
Properly position baby when breastfeeding
Ensure baby is burped after feeding
Slowly introduce solids. Babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six-month. Only introduce new foods before this age under the advisement of your physician
Do not allow your infant to feed themselves
Do not cut the nipples of bottles as this might result in a heavier flow than the baby can manage
The sound of your child choking is alarming and for good reason - it prompts you to take immediate action that can be lifesaving. It is important to take steps to reduce your child’s risk of choking during and after feeding and consult your physician if you suspect an underlying problem.
You can help your child if he or she is choking through repositioning them or administering back blows. Remember, it is crucial that you seek medical attention if your child has been choking and without air for an extended period of time.
We hope you now feel armed to assist in the event that your baby has another incident. Share with other moms in your circle!