I’ve mentioned before that I breastfed both my girls. I’m not here to judge you if you don’t. Our goal as moms is to love and care for our kids the best we can and however, you can feed your baby is the right way.

That being said though, something scary can occur with our wee ones that could take you by surprise if you’re new to this whole mom-thing…your baby could choke on that milk or formula that you’re feeding him.

When my first was only a few weeks old, I was very blessed to have lots and lots of milk. I remember when she choked a bit, but it wasn’t serious, thankfully.

An ounce of prevention is always the best way to handle these things so I’m going to tell you all about what to do if you’re feeding your baby and she starts choking on milk.

Why Do Babies Choke on Milk?

Milk from mother's breast is a natural medicine to baby.
Mother day bonding concept with newborn baby nursing.

Babies are very new creatures and their digestive systems aren’t quite yet fully developed. Experts often call the first 3 months of a baby’s life the 4th trimester because they’re still developing so much.

On the day of birth, their tummies are tiny. By the end of that week, they’ve doubled in size.

They’re just trying to get the hang of this eating thing and it’s up to us to help them. Babies can choke on milk while breastfeeding or bottle-feeding. The main causes of each usually have to do with either how fast your milk or the formula is flowing out or the position in which you’re holding them.

In very rare cases, some babies might have internal conditions that make it hard for them to swallow or create gastroesophageal reflux where everything in their tummies comes back up. If you keep having this problem even after trying the things I suggest below, make sure you contact your child’s pediatrician immediately so they can help.

Why Your Baby is Choking During Breastfeeding

Assuming your baby doesn’t have an internal condition, if you’re breastfeeding, your baby could be choking on your milk for the following reasons:

Overabundance of breastmilk

While we definitely want plenty of milk to nurse our babies, when there’s too much of it, it can lead to your baby choking. Plus, it can be uncomfortable for you too. Trying out different positions can help ease this for both of you.

Forceful letdown

Another problem you may encounter is that your breasts are so full of milk that they practically shoot milk out.

As I said before, babies are just learning how to do this whole eating thing and when the milk shoots out at them, it can come out too quickly for them to swallow.

For either of these, if you notice any of the following signs, it’s very likely that your breastmilk is getting pushy with your baby:

  • Choking, gagging, coughing, or even gasping during a feeding
  • Gumming down on your nipple to stop the milk
  • Pulling away from your breast in repeated intervals
  • Spitting up often
  • Refusing to nurse
  • Making clicking sounds during a feeding

What About Bottle-Feeding and a Choking Baby?

With bottle-feeding, the problems for your baby choking on milk can also arise. You should check the positions you are in when you’re feeding your baby, as well as of those of any caregivers or family members that help out during feeding times.

Additionally, you should check out your bottles. There are many of them now that help keeps the flow from being overbearing. If you don’t have them, you should get them even if your baby hasn’t choked on milk yet.

What Do I Do if My Baby Chokes on Milk?

Patting on back so infant can burp

In many cases, the choking will not be serious. Your baby may pull away from the breast or bottle and start coughing.

You can help pat them on the back and soothe them and generally, this should do the trick. But if your baby starts full-on choking, you’ll need to stay calm and help get the milk away from the airway.

Taking a baby CPR course before you become a mom is always a good idea, but if not, here’s what to do:

  • Lay baby face-down on your thigh and give her up to 5 blows to the back.
  • Another method if that fails is to turn your baby over and give her a maximum of 5 chest thrusts until the airway clears.
  • If none of this works, call 911 immediately.

You can also find a more detailed explanation from the Red Cross on what to do for infant choking plus a few other handy things that will help you keep calm and mom-on.

How to Prevent Baby from Choking on Milk

Now the best way to not freak out is to prevent this from happening entirely. By taking a few precautions, you can have peace of mind when it’s time to feed your baby.

Slow things down

For breastfeeding moms, slowing down your milk supply is the best way to keep forceful letdown from overpowering your baby. You can apply pressure to your breasts by pushing inward for several seconds. This helps slow things down and is good to do before you start nursing for feeding time. If you’re bottle-feeding, check your bottles to see if they’re slow-flow. If not, it’s time to get new ones, ASAP.

Try block feeding

When you’re breastfeeding, you can try this method of only nursing from one breast during each feeding session. This helps her get all that fatty hindmilk too, another benefit. Keep it to that breast only for a couple hours of feedings, then switch to the other breast to even out the supply and keep it from going into overload.

Check the latch

Sometimes, babies can choke on milk if they aren’t latching properly. Make sure if you’re planning to breastfeed your new baby that you have that latch squared away. If you aren’t sure you’ve got things right, while you’re still in the hospital, get help from the nurses to show you how to get your angel on there just right. When you get the proper latch, breastfeeding usually goes very smoothly because babies can handle the flow better.

Change your position

For breastfeeding, using an uphill position or a down-under position can help ease the problem. The football hold with a slight lean backward is another one to try. If you’re feeding baby from a bottle, try adjusting your position so she’s got an easier time of swallowing that milk.

Read two of my favorite positions – side lying and laid-back.

When Baby Falls Asleep While Drinking Milk

Whether you’re nursing or bottle-feeding, babies can get pretty sleepy. Such a nice life, right? They tend to slow down their suckling when they get sleepy and usually fall off the nipple of the breast or bottle on their own. At this point, they shouldn’t be in any danger of choking, but spit-up could occur.

A good way to avoid that is to keep them elevated during the feeding, but if that’s not possible, for example, if you’re laying down in bed, then carefully lift her up on your shoulder and gently pat her back for a few minutes. This should help things settle down.

While babies can choke on milk, the good news is that if they spit up, their little bodies can handle it. Lay baby on her back when she sleeps to prevent SIDS and turn her little head slightly left or right (try to alternate it) and everything will be fine.

One Last Thing…

The slightest cough would startle me when I was a new mom. I learned to stay calm no matter what was going on and I advise you to do the same. Most of the time, everything will be fine, but on the rare occasion it isn’t, don’t lose your cool and go through these steps to stop choking. But first, get your precautions in place to prevent it!

Author

Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs. She loves eating too much sushi, exercise, and jamming out on her Fender.

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