When I first started baby-led weaning, I was concerned about gagging and you may be feeling the same as you watch your baby gagging on their first foods. You may be wondering if gagging is normal with baby-led weaning.

Gagging is a normal response in babies when they first start weaning. At about 6 months, the gag reflex is in the middle of the tongue and is easily triggered. This helps to prevent choking. As babies mature, the gag reflex moves toward the back of the throat and is not as easily triggered.

At this point, you may wonder what your and your baby’s weaning journey will look like over the next couple of weeks as your baby’s oral motor skills continue to develop.

When you first start weaning, once your child is showing all of the signs of being developmentally ready, you will probably find that your baby gags frequently.

As mentioned, the gag reflex is more easily triggered in younger babies as the reflex is triggered in the middle of the tongue. This is helpful from a safety and survival point of view as it helps to prevent choking.

As your baby develops and starts bringing objects to their mouth, they may gag on different objects, from toys to their own hands, to food. Your baby is actually desensitizing that gag reflex when they mouth everything they can find, in preparation for weaning.

After about 6 months, the initiation of that gag reflex starts moving toward the back of the tongue and becomes harder to elicit.

Also, in those first few weeks of learning to eat solid foods, your baby has not yet developed the oral motor skills required to properly prepare the food for swallowing. Food may prematurely be pushed to the back of the throat, initiating the gag reflex. 

The offending food is either spat out or moved to the front of the mouth where it can be processed again for swallowing.

So, when you first start baby-led weaning, don’t be surprised if your baby frequently gags on food. This is absolutely normal and will start to diminish over a number of weeks, as your baby learns better oral motor skills and the gag reflex is harder to elicit.


What is the difference between gagging and choking in weaning babies?

Choking occurs when something physically obstructs your baby’s airways, causing them to be unable to breathe.

If the obstruction is not removed, the baby will continue to choke, turn purple, and potentially lose consciousness.

Choking is a medical emergency and you must take action to help your baby. Completing an infant first aid course is helpful, not just when doing baby-led weaning but in general.

Gagging is a reflex that pushes potential obstructions to the front of the mouth, preventing the object from entering the airway in the first place.

If your baby is gagging, they will more than likely be able to manage on their own, without intervention.


How can you tell if your baby is gagging, not choking?

If your baby is choking, they are likely to look alarmed or frightened. They will also be silent as there is something physically obstructing their airways and no air is moving through the airway. They will start turning purple if the obstruction is not removed. However, a gagging baby is often a noisy baby! Air is moving through the airways and your baby is trying to deal with the object in their mouth. Their tongue will thrust forward, they will probably cough and their face may turn red.


It may feel like a lifetime for you or your husband as you watch this unfold but within a couple of seconds, your gagging baby will have spat out the food or object and will probably pick it up to try it again.


Gagging  Choking
Tongue thrusts forward Face or lips turn blue
Mouth is normally open Often silent or weak cough as airway is obstructed
Face turns red May lose consciousness
Baby may cough and sputter

What should you do if your baby is gagging?

If your little one does start gagging, the best thing to do is to remain calm and keep a close eye on your baby.

Intervening or trying to help your baby at this point can lead to choking. So, keep a close eye on them, offer praise and encouragement, and let them deal with the food in their mouth. 

It can feel like time slows down as you watch the scene unfold before you. Stay calm and count to 10 and it is highly likely that your baby will have stopped gagging by the time you reach 8.

Once the offending food has either been swallowed or ejected, you can offer your little one a drink or water and a cuddle.

If your baby seems to really be struggling and continues to gag, gently tilt them forward so that they can use gravity to help bring the food to the front of the mouth.

As you and your baby continue on this weaning adventure, incidences of gagging will become less and less frequent and the worry that you used to have about gagging will become a thing of the past.


At What Age will Your Baby-Led Weaner Stop Gagging on Food?

At around 10 months of age, initiation of the gag reflex moves to the back third of the tongue. This makes it harder to elicit and means that your baby will gag less and less at about 10 months.

Also, as they get more proficient at eating, they will gag less frequently. So, just give it time and acknowledge that gagging is a normal and healthy part of your baby’s development.


Spoon-fed Babies Gag Too

Gagging is not isolated to baby-led weaning. Spoonfed babies gag too. Very often the gag reflex is initiated in spoon-fed babies when new textures or bigger foods are introduced.

So, whether you choose baby-led weaning or traditional spoon-feeding, expect to see your baby gag occasionally as they explore the world of solid foods.

Gagging is to choking as falling is to walking.


Helping your Husband Cope with Baby’s Gagging at Meal Times

Once I had come to terms with my little one’s gagging, getting my husband on board was a whole different matter.

He tends to panic or overreacts more than I and I had spent every meal time with my daughter while he was at work so he didn’t have the advantage of time and experience that I had.

So, just in case you find yourself in the same position, here are some ways that you can help your husband (or any other member of the family) cope with gagging.

  • Make sure that you are both in agreement on how you want to approach weaning (spoon feeding vs baby-led weaning).
  • Realistically, your husband may not spend the hours and hours researching BLW you have but it is important that he understands the basics of baby-led weaning and that your baby very well may gag when eating foods.
  • Encourage your husband not to jump up and intervene when your baby does start gagging. Reassure him that your little one has done this before and that you are confident that your baby can manage this.
  • Make sure your husband knows the difference between gagging and choking so that he knows when he actually does need to intervene.
  • If your baby does happen to gag on foods while your husband it out or at work, it may be helpful for him if you were to take a video (provided you are sure your baby is managing and not at risk). This will help your husband to understand what happens with gagging and show him that your baby can indeed manage without intervention.
  • Remind him that spoon-fed babies gag too and it is a normal part of baby development, just like the occasional fall is normal for babies learning to walk.

I’m Tarryn Poulton, a former pediatric Occupational Therapist, qualified nutrition coach and mom to 2 kids. I did baby-led weaning with both of my children and I loved the experience and aim to share my knowledge with the rest of the world.

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