You may have noticed during your first few breastfeeding sessions your baby choking on milk from the breast or even from the bottle during bottle feeding.
But, rest assured that infant choking and gagging is a rather common occurrence in newborn babies.
This is partly due to their body still developing and still having this rather overactive gag reflex, which helps protect them from any foreign matter entering forcefully down their esophagus.
That, and the fact that they’re still very young and don’t know how things function – their mouths included – so they may struggle with swallowing for a bit before adapting and learning how to.
A bit unusual, sure, but what most people don’t realize is that our kids learn things every day, from interactions with the environment around them to their basic bodily functions.
It all develops rapidly during the first year or so, so it’s only natural that there are some hiccups here and there (no pun intended).
If that isn’t the case though, the other common culprit tends to be the feeding position when using the to bottle or nursing position when you’re breastfeeding your little one.
Both of those are thankfully rather easy to remedy with just a bit of self-education on proper feeding positions, and I’m here to share exactly that.
3 Main Reasons For Baby Choking On Milk And Best Ways To Prevent It
The aforementioned feeding position isn’t the only reason your baby may be choking on milk, albeit the most common.
There are a number of other ones around that you ought to keep an eye out for, as some might pose some level of trouble for your precious child when you breastfeed or bottle feed them.
1. An oversupply of milk
A somewhat uncommon problem where a baby chokes on too much breast milk coming from the breast.
An overabundant milk supply usually happens when there’s some sort of hormonal imbalance within your system or when your baby’s mouth isn’t latching onto your nipple properly.
Doing so doesn’t empty the breast out fully, but still triggers the need to refill, which leads to a stronger flow of milk at times, one that your baby doesn’t expect, thus making him start to choke or gag.
You’ll notice a problem immediately as he begins making slight clicking sounds from constantly detaching from the breast because his latch isn’t good enough.
You may also notice that he’s getting a bit fussier and developing a bloated tummy because he ends up swallowing air due to irregular gulping and, once again, bad latching.
This can also lead to things like colic, but doesn’t necessarily have to.
An overly abundant milk flow also poses another breastfeeding problem: foremilk/hindmilk imbalance.
Because your child insists on suckling for brief moments only due to bad latching, he only gets the foremilk while the hindmilk stays behind.
This leads to him asking for more frequent feeds due to never being satisfied with what he’s gotten already, since the fatty hindmilk is left behind in the breast.
There are problems that that can cause for you as well, like mastitis and clogged milk ducts, but that’s not the primary focus here.
THE SOLUTION: When dealing with an oversupply of milk, there are a variety of methods that you can utilize to help bring your level of milk production down, whether it’s through the use of menthol rubs, cabbage leaf breast pads, or breast massages.
That said, one of the most effective methods in helping you lower your milk production is to start block feeding.
Block feeding is when you allow your little one to only feed off of one breast at a time for a set amount of time, usually 2-3 hours or until the breast runs empty, after which he swaps to the other.
This way, your breasts get the signal that your baby has been satisfied and that they don’t need to produce as much milk the next time around.
This helps gradually lower milk production and any excess weight gain that a foremilk/hindmilk imbalance may have brought about.
2. Overactive letdown reflex
Closely tied to an oversupply of milk but can also be a standalone issue, an overactive milk ejection reflex (OMER for short) can be a real pain for your child to deal with.
It’s like comparing a faucet to a hose for a baby when he is being nursed – starting off slow and all of a sudden being hit by a torrent of breastmilk when your letdown reflex kicks in.
This forceful let-down then makes the baby struggle to keep pace with it, trying to gulp it all down or simply gnaw at your nipples to try and stem the flow of breast milk.
This is caused by yet another hormonal imbalance within your body, one tied to the hormone oxytocin, which serves a dual purpose within our bodies.
It’s primary purpose is the love hormone, which our body creates when we show affection and endearment toward someone or something, and it makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
And, its secondary purpose is to regulate the flow of milk from our breasts.
Should there be an abnormality in this hormone, we can end up producing a lot less milk than needed or a whole lot more, which leads to the baby choking on milk.
THE SOLUTION: When dealing with overactive letdown, there are a few ways of going about solving this problem in particular.
One of them is simple and that’s to hand express some milk at the start until your letdown reflex kicks in before you start feeding your child.
This way, they won’t get hit by the sudden and powerful stream of milk, allowing him to feed at his own pace in peace.
The recommended amount of time is anywhere between 1 and 2 minutes, give or take a few dozen seconds, but do be careful to not overdo it as doing so will lead you back to the first problem of milk oversupply.
The other solution is to change breastfeeding positions.
One of the most highly recommended ones is to sit down and lie back onto a nice cushion while keeping your baby in a football hold and keeping him above the breast.
This way even, if you have an overactive letdown reflex, the risk of your baby choking on milk is minimized due to gravity itself because now the milk has to go against it rather than being assisted by it.
Doing it like this ends up giving your little one more control over the pace of his breastfeeding, allowing for a more comfortable feeding period and a baby that’s a lot less fussy.
The other position that many healthcare providers and pediatricians suggest is simply lying on the side while the baby feeds, while also taking a break every half a minute or so to help your baby pace himself.
It’s done this way to help the baby stop quicker and to let him recover in case he hits a fast milk flow period, allowing him some time where he’s free to spit up some of that excess milk.
3. Improper breast/bottle feeding positions
And finally, the main culprit that I’ve mentioned before – poor positioning during feeds.
The root of most problems and the foundation on which the oversupply of milk issue stems from as well.
Many new moms make the mistake in thinking that the position itself doesn’t matter and that they can feed their baby in any manner they see fit.
That sadly isn’t the case, as how you hold your baby can greatly affect the quality of his feed and his overall mood for the day.
For instance, while it might be considered cute for your baby to be lying down in his crib while holding the bottle tilted up (and I’m sure it’ll create many Instagrammable moments), it’s an improper position.
That’s mainly because keeping the bottle elevated in such a manner will make the milk come out faster than intended, and it drops down directly onto the baby’s throat.
This ends up leaving your child either gulping or sputtering to try and get rid of the excess milk in his mouth.
Since we’ve already covered the best and safest breastfeeding positions for your baby, it’s time to go through the best one related to bottle feeding and that would be paced bottle feeding.
Paced bottle feeding is a position in which you keep the bottle parallel to the surface on which your baby is resting.
That way he’ll only get just the right amount of milk push up against the silicone nipple, giving him more control over the pace of his feeding, instead of being forced to gulp down as much as the bottle juts out when turned upside down.
Plus, it’s easier for your little one to pop the nipple out of his mouth in this position and take a break without leaving a mess, give or take a few drops of milk on his bib.
If you’re still having issues replicating this, ask your lactation consultant (IBCLC) to help instruct you in positioning yourself and baby during breastfeeding or bottle feeding to have the baby face the nipple optimally.
THE SOLUTION: This one is rather simple as there isn’t much you can do other than to learn the proper positions for breastfeeding or bottle feeding.
EXTRA SOLUTION: Burping the baby
This one applies to all three of these causes of the baby choking on milk.
Should you find yourself in this situation, the first thing you ought to try and do to help decrease your baby’s fussiness is to burp him.
Lay a burp cloth on your shoulder to prevent messes on yourself from any spit up projectiles, pick your baby up, and bring him over your shoulder before gently patting him on the back to help dislodge the swallowed gasses.
This will help release the trapped gasses your baby may have from all of the swallowed air from gulping and choking on the milk either via burping or otherwise.
It’ll also help send some of the excess milk back out as spit-up, allowing the baby to feel a lot better.
NB: If something more serious than simply spitting up happens to your child when they start to choke on milk, immediately call for medical help.
An ambulance would be optimal, but your child’s pediatrician may suffice in most cases.
By this I mean if you start seeing him stop breathing, lose consciousness or start turning pale/blue around the lips.
He may have an underlying problem which causes this and an intervention is necessary.
Yes, it is a rather morbid thought, but being informed about it will help you prevent such a thing from occurring if it ever does.
A baby choking on milk is rarely a cause for alarm except in the most extreme of circumstances.
In fact, it’s a rather natural part of the process of growing up as your little one gets used to properly swallowing milk and other liquids.
Should you ever encounter issues related to choking or gagging, just let your baby have a little break by burping him first before readjusting his position, ensuring your baby faces the nipple in an upright position where he has more control over the flow.
I’m confident that you’ll be able to overcome this issue in no time and that you’ll be back to having a happy and fuss-free child on your hands.
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