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Gagging is not Choking

Staying on mush

Many parents today hold off moving their infants onto textured food, a delay that may cause fussy eating and slowed speech development. Many parents hold back as they fear their babies will choke while others only use processed foods from jars, squeeze packets and tins where the food is always soft for legal reasons.

Learning from the mouth

During the first year of life babies learn many things through feelings in the mouth such as the texture, temperature and taste of foods. Until four to six months of age (after this food can be introduced) babies only swallow liquid. Apart from the temperature and the occasional different taste, nothing much changes but swallowing becomes totally different when food is involved. There are different tastes, textures and temperatures to explore and become familiar with. Some babies are sensitive to these changes while others are not.


Soft, pureed or chewed food passes over the tongue touching the gag reflex at the back of the throat on its way down to the stomach. Suitably prepared food, softened and mushed by you if your baby is too young to do this in her mouth, slides down the oesophagus into the stomach and on into the intestines for further digestion.

This process of swallowing often involves gagging when the food is new and can involve choking if food items are too hard. However, it is important to realise that gagging is not choking.


Choking occurs when a substance gets lodged in the small oesophageal tube and encroaches into the trachea (airway) lying alongside it.

Food matter can partially obstruct this airway alongside the oesophagus or it can completely obstruct the tube. This will depend on the size and the firmness of the lodged substance. Sitting upright makes it easier for food matter to go down.

Clearly, you never offer your baby foods that could get lodged in this tube. Foods to avoid are hard substances like peanuts, raw carrot, apple, and hard biscuits that don’t soften with saliva.


Gagging, on the other hand, is when your baby is getting used to different textures. Once the food starts to descend down the oesophagus your baby may regurgitate it up from the back of their throat but often swallow it again. Again, it is important for babies to be in an upright position to aid this process. Gagging is necessary for babies to understand how to chew and swallow different textures. Giving babies soft foods that are age appropriate will usually not cause choking but may often cause this temporary discomfort of gagging during the chewing and swallowing process.

Always sit with babies as you offer them solid foods. Avoid displaying panic reactions in front of them if they do gag. Instead, smile and be encouraging, knowing that they are capable of regurgitating and re-swallowing. A shock reaction from you can cause babies to panic and suddenly inhale the food they have in their mouth.

Enjoy the experience of eating

Help babies enjoy the experience of eating by providing a non-rushed, non-distracted atmosphere. Sit in front of them face-to-face with an encouraging smile and keep a ‘sippy cup’ of water handy.


This article was brought to you by Jan Murray, private child health consultant who is an internationally renowned expert in her field. Jan encourages parents in the area of infant sleep, nutrition, activities and family balance. Jan publishes regular ezine and blog articles to provide free parenting tips, tools and resources to educate and support those caring for young babies and children.

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