Starting Solid Foods: What To Do If Baby Gags On Solids
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Starting Solid Foods: What To Do If Baby Gags On Solids

Starting solid foods is a momentous change for infants, and many babies gag when they start solids. How should parents react to their baby's gag reflex?

Your baby might exercise their gag reflex when starting solids, especially if you choose to do baby led weaning. Most times, gagging on food isn't anything to be concerned about. Here's what parents need to know, and when to be concerned.

What is gagging in babies? 

baby eating solid food on a silicone suction plate

You might notice a baby gag naturally on new foods. Gagging occurs frequently during a baby's food journey.

Most babies gag during the eating experience as they explore food. When food enters a baby's mouth, it takes time to explore the new tastes and textures. Gagging doesn't necessarily mean your baby has too much food in their mouth, or they are choking - they are just learning to chew properly.

Although not all babies gag on solid food, it is very common.

Is it normal for babies to have very sensitive gag reflexes?

The gag reflex can help an infant learn to move food forward in their mouth and prevent choking. An infant's very sensitive gag reflex can help an infant learn to chew and swallow solid foods. Although it can be nerve-wracking to watch, some gagging is normal when a baby begins to eat solid foods.

Gagging helps babies learn to eat solids.

Typically, a baby's gagging is nothing to worry about. Babies learn to eat and chew by experimenting with bites of food, and sometimes this causes gagging.

The gag reflex allows a baby to push food forward in their mouth, especially when they accidentally try to chew pieces of food that are too large for swallowing. Experimenting with textured foods and soft foods helps build a baby's confidence in taking bites of food, chewing, and swallowing.

Put simply, gagging is the body's natural protective reflex to prevent choking.

Spoon-fed babies gag less than ones who do baby-led weaning at first, but gag more later.

When babies learn to eat by having thin, watery puréed food or baby food pouches, their tongue gets less sensory stimulation than babies who do baby-led weaning. While you might see a baby gagging on purees, it is more common for parents who try introducing solid foods through the process of baby-led weaning to see their baby gagging.

All babies are likely to gag when they try finger foods for the first time. When parents introduce solid foods, a baby's brain engages a sort of alarm that tells them something seems "off." Baby self-feeding can help them experience new tastes and textures, it is natural for them to exercise their sensitive gag reflex.

Introducing solid foods is a big milestone, but parents should rest assured that whether they try spoon-feeding or baby self-feeding, their infant will eventually outgrow their sensitive reflex to gag.

Gagging and choking are not the same thing. 

Baby Cpr First Aid Training Choking

Some gagging is perfectly normal for infants, especially when they start to eat table food. A baby's gag reflex is more sensitive than an adult's. If your baby is gagging when they eat food, it typically isn't cause for concern.

However, gagging and choking are not the same thing. Choking is a very dangerous thing for babies and means that food or an object is lodged in your baby's airway. This causes them to struggle to breathe.

Do not hesitate to act if you see your baby choking. Choking can cause severe injuries and even death.

Choking involves little to no sound, but you can observe the signs of choking. Choking often involves an open mouth, wide eyes, drooling, and bluish skin around the lips and eyes. You might be able to hear your baby gasp for air or make faint noises. You might notice your baby gag, and then choke. It is important to stay close by your baby, especially when they begin to eat solids.

Does your baby gag frequently? They might be struggling with transitioning between bottle feeding and solid foods. 

Your baby might struggle to eat age-appropriate foods, and this can be addressed by your child's pediatrician or feeding therapist.

Signs that your baby is having a hard time adjusting to solid food and finger food include:

  • Frequent gagging

  • Discomfort when eating

  • Gurgles or a "wet" sounding voice

  • Coughing when eating or drinking

  • Swallowing foods whole instead of taking baby bites

  • Weight loss, poor growth

Gagging and choking

Gagging is a reflex to keep harmful substances away from a baby's airways. Choking occurs when the airway is partially or totally blocked. Choking is quiet, different than when a baby gags. It might be helpful for parents and caregivers to take an infant CPR class so they can learn the signs of choking and how to tell the difference if their baby is gagging or choking.

What qualifies as excessive gagging? 

baby having a meal on a high chair

Gagging is a natural way of protecting your baby's mouth and airways from choking and is completely normal for infants when they experience new tastes, smells, textured foods, and temperatures.

Normal full-term infants will gag on something unfamiliar if it touches the back portion of the tongue. As babies grow, they experience different textures and tastes, and the gag reflex shifts further back in the mouth. Babies not only experience gagging during their solid food journey, but also as they explore with toys and their own fingers.

Some infants will gag with certain foods. Others will always gag when they try new solid foods. Typically, gagging is harmless, and there is no need to be concerned if your baby is gagging.

Why frequency of gagging matters: 

cute baby sitting on the floor having baby meal

Gagging is an uncomfortable experience for newborns, infants, and older babies. Kids who go through frequent gagging are more likely to develop food aversions or have an unpleasant association with eating pureed food, table food, and other complementary foods.

Learning to eat solid foods is a normal part of development, and normal gagging is to be expected. Just like newly walking babies stumble and fall a lot, they are experiencing the developmental process of learning a new skill. Eating is the same way - the first few weeks and months of eating solid food is a time when babies work to use their oral motor skills to practice chewing, taking baby bites, and swallowing properly.

Too much gagging might lead to an increased choking risk and might warrant a call to your child's doctor. Excessive gagging might lead to food aversions or resistance to eating regular food. Starting solids is a big milestone, and not all babies are ready at the same months of age. It is important for parents to consult with their child's pediatrician about the optimal time for starting solids.

Is vomiting with gagging normal? 

baby chewing on a spoon on a high chair

Yes, occasional spitting up or vomiting when eating solid foods is normal. Some babies are just more sensitive and more forceful with their reflexes. If your baby gags and then throws up often, try to give them soft foods that are less likely to trigger their reflex. Good "first foods" include pears, bananas, sweet potatoes, and squash.

When vomiting with gagging may be concerning

If older babies continue to gag and vomit when eating solid food, it might be time to consult a doctor who can recommend feeding therapy. Mealtimes should be fun, not stressful, for infants as they learn to eat new foods! Vomiting can be a sign of a developmental issue or even an allergic reaction. If vomiting is accompanied by trouble breathing or facial swelling, give the doctor a call right away.

Some babies gag on food going up

parents comforting a crying baby in pain

Some babies have gastroesophageal reflux (GER), which is when the stomach contents rise up into the throat, which can cause pain and vomiting.

GER often occurs during mealtime but can be seen throughout the day, especially when a baby is lying down or in a reclined position. A doctor should address GER with families to make sure that a baby's food or stomach contents don't cause their airways to become completely blocked.

Symptoms of GER include:

  • Arching the back when eating

  • Choking, gagging, or issues swallowing

  • Irritability when eating

  • Refusing to eat or loss of appetite

Using the KeaBabies silicone suction plates 

KeaBabies silicone suction plates

One of the best investments you can purchase when your baby starts eating finger foods is the KeaBabies Prep Silicone Suction Plates. These durable, beautiful plates come in 3-packs and many colors.

These plates are perfect for babies who eat finger foods. They are made of non-toxic, 100% food-grade materials and are even dishwasher-safe. They have a non-slip grip through 4 suction cups on the base, so your little one can't lift the plate and make a huge mess. The plates fit most high chairs' shapes and are easy to use.

These safe, stain-resistant plates are freezer-safe, microwave-safe, and dishwasher-safe. They were designed with parents in mind, to make their baby's food journey easier.

The plates are ideal for infants to practice self-feeding and feature modern designs and a variety of colors to suit all styles! 

How do I help my baby's gag reflex disappear?

baby girl eating a cookie wearing a silicone bib food catcher

Parents can help their baby work through the difficulty of eating textured finger foods and solid foods by being patient. Gag reflexes eventually go away, and most times, parents don't need to worry as long as they are serving foods in safe, healthy ways.

Gagging on food is a normal part of learning to eat solids. Excessive gagging can be a sign of more intense health issues, but typically, parents do not need to worry.

Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Kaitlyn Torrez

I’m Kaitlyn Torrez, from the San Francisco Bay Area. I live with my husband and two children, Roman and Logan. I’m a former preschool teacher, currently enjoying being a stay at home mom. I love all things writing, coffee, and chocolate. In my free time, I enjoy reading, blogging, and working out.

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