Little ones get phlegm sometimes too, and when they do, you may worry about your infant choking on mucus. Sometimes it just lasts a hair of a second. Like when you accidentally swallow wrong.
Incidentally, I’m the queen of choking on my own saliva.
But babies are a bit different since they breathe through their noses. That means they have a better chance of choking on snot than the rest of us.
Not every time your baby chokes on mucus at night will there be a danger. Even when a baby choking on mucus and throwing up from it happens, this guide will help you figure out how to handle things.
I wish I’d had this guide when my girls were small. Honestly, though, it’s still something I worry about with both of my kids. “Mommy, can we have some grapes?” I love that they ask for healthy things, but I will not leave the room when they eat them just in case. Yes, even now that they’re older!
But babies aren’t eating grapes. When a baby is choking on mucus from reflux or chokes on mucus for a cold, you will want to know what to do. My eldest scared us when we were in China when she was lightly choking on some phlegm. Fortunately, it worked itself out before we could even panic.
So before you get to the panic stage, here’s what to know!
Can a baby choke to death on mucus?
Well, I’m not going to sugarcoat this, but yes. It’s probably why we become lighter sleepers when we become moms.
Your baby can choke on anything. Obviously, preventing it as much as possible by keeping items that pose a hazard out of the way is the best course of action. But when your little one gets a cold or those little nasal passages to get stopped up (from dried milk, a cold, or a combination), they could choke on the phlegm they have.
And they could, in theory, choke to death. This is not quite as common, though.
But why is it happening? To keep you on your toes, perhaps. However, the real answer to this mystery follows below.
Why is my baby choking on mucus?
You must stay calm whether your baby is choking on mucus while sleeping or just sitting with you and gagging away. The key thing to remember here is that babies breathe through their noses for the first few months.
Because they need to breathe while eating, whether you’re bottle-feeding or nursing, your baby will eat in the same way. They will suckle the milk or formula, and as they do, they’ll breathe through their noses. When nothing is stopped, this should all work fine.
And sometimes it doesn’t, which I’ve already covered here regarding breast milk, so definitely check that out.
There’s something else at play here, too, though.
If your baby is choking on a mucus cough in the throat, you get to the point where that developing immune system will spell more colds for the baby. But with this increase in colds and illnesses also comes an increase in snot.
And even the smartest babies don’t know how to blow their little noses yet. They don’t really know how to cough up pesky phlegm, either.
As such, they swallow plenty of it. And this may lead to vomiting.
Vomiting babies are definitely scary, but sometimes, it’s just what they need to feel better. You’ll want to keep an eye for other symptoms, but if you see a clear vomit, it’s likely mucus. Again, refer to my other article, and you can learn about clear spit-up.
Something else you should know about babies and mucus is that when things are functioning properly, that mucus keeps the throat and nostrils from getting dried out and painful. The mucus in this area also serves as a way to keep germs from getting to your child and leading to an illness.
But your baby may be choking on it when phlegm increases, builds up or becomes thicker than usual. Some key things to listen for are:
- More gurgling sounds than the usual
- Congested sounds when breathing
- Snoring or loud breathing while sleeping
So, Leslie, where is all this mucus coming from anyway?
Well, as I said before, babies are more prone to colds and congestion than their older counterparts. This is partly due to their itty-bitty nasal passages that get stuffed up more easily. And they have a work in progress with their developing immunity, which will eventually protect them from getting sick so often.
So as this is happening, any germ or irritant that gets into those tiny airways will trigger their body. It will make more mucus to help protect them from whatever it is.
And thus, the mucus cycle continues. And you may find your baby starts choking on it.
You won’t be able to prevent it all, but some common things will trigger the creation of more phlegm for your baby:
When we lived in China, EVERYONE smoked. Everywhere. Even in places where there were signs posted for no smoking. Add to it the smog, and our children had lots of snot. LOTS.
Hopefully, you don’t smoke, but if you do, don’t do it near your baby. Change your clothes immediately before holding your baby after smoking and scrub your hands. If anyone in your family or circle of friends smokes, don’t let them smoke indoors with the baby around.
Dust and pollution
I remember once in China, I’d cleaned our house in the morning. That included dusting. By the afternoon, there was a layer of dust on our entertainment center. A LAYER!
But you don’t need to be in China to be affected by too much dust and pollution. While you can’t stop the pollution around you, you can filter the air in your home and take care of dust to the best of your ability.
Germs, illnesses, and allergies
Viruses, bacterial infections, and even allergies can bring on mucus—especially pneumonia and bronchiolitis. If you think your child is sick, visit the doctor, especially if a high fever is present. These germs and allergies can also create too much mucus, making your baby choke.
Just like certain weather conditions leave you sniffly, your baby has the same troubles. Ensure they’re dressed accordingly and keep them comfortable during weather changes that bring out more snot. A humidifier is an excellent investment for your baby’s nursery!
Okay, now we know why a baby might stand a chance of choking on phlegm. But what do you do when they’re choking?
The first thing is: DON’T PANIC! Read on, and I’ll explain.
What to do if a baby is choking on mucus
It’s always scary when anyone starts choking, especially a baby. For most mamas, you may only deal with this a handful of times when your children are babies or toddlers. But if it keeps happening often, it’s definitely something you want the doctor to check out. Swollen tonsils could be to blame.
To minimize infant choking, you can do your part by:
- Keeping baby upright for 30 minutes after eating. This will help with choking related to reflux.
- Change the formula brand you’re using. It will help to talk to your doctor about this too.
- Feed more frequently but with smaller feedings.
- You may want to try saline drops to thin out the mucus for colds and allergies. This product can help!
- Check for teeth. Teething can make your baby more slobbery than usual, increasing the chances of choking.
In most instances, your baby will spit up or vomit any excess phlegm, as I mentioned before. But sometimes, they may choke. I fully recommend learning how to render first aid to a choking baby from the Red Cross or other associations.
Here’s a video you may find helpful.
Most of you will never need to use what you’ve learned. But that would be ideal. It will be too late if you don’t learn what to do when your child is choking on phlegm or anything.
How do I know when to render emergency first aid for choking babies?
Generally, if your baby is coughing, sputtering, or crying and turning pale red or full-on red, you need to move quickly. This summarizes what you’ll learn by watching the video, though please don’t skip the video or sign up for a class in your area to learn. Some locations offer these services free through emergency services (police, fire, etc.), while others have them at the health department. Take a look and see what you find.
If your baby is choking:
- Place the baby on your forearm on their belly, lowering the head slightly.
- Give a firm yet gentle tap to the upper back with the palm of your hand.
- Once you do, that should get the phlegm buildup out of there and lead to a happy baby.
- If your baby isn’t back to breathing normally after you try this, call 911 immediately.
While choking babies is scary, knowing what to do should this emergency arise could be life-saving.
How can I get mucus out?
So, above, I touched on a few things that will help you get that mucus out of your baby’s throat and let them breathe easily. As a result, you’ll breathe easier, too, as nothing takes our breath away as quickly as when something is wrong with our children.
So, extra mucus? Try these tips:
- When you see any extra snot about, wipe it away right away.
- Try the bulb. These things can gently suck out the mucus that is blocking the nasal passages. I linked a Snot Sucker above, but some of you may prefer the bulb.
- Get a humidifier. I like the one I linked above for you too. These are great for colds and when the air is dry in your house, like during winter when the heat is on.
- Give a warm bath. That steam helps clear mucus away naturally. Of course, this should go without saying, but never leave your baby unattended in the tub!
- Keep up with good feeding. Your breastmilk is nutritious and like a natural medicinal for your baby.
Defy gravity. Sometimes if you place the baby over your knee and rub her back gently, you’ll be able to clear away that snot.
What you should NEVER do to clear mucus
I want to quickly cover the things you should never do if your child has excess mucus that causes them to choke. One of those things is using vapor rubs. While they are acceptable for children over 2, vapor rubs are not recommended for infants and young toddlers.
You shouldn’t give cold or flu meds either, not without a doctor’s authorization. If any medication is needed, your baby’s pediatrician will help you with that.
And another thing…never pour any water or liquid into your baby’s nose to flush the mucus away. There are safer methods for helping your baby clear their nasal passages that I’ve linked above.
One last thing…
Choking is scary, especially when your baby is the one doing the choking. Staying calm and knowing first aid will help you through this. As I mentioned, though, most of the time, your baby starts choking, and you’ll be able to help them clear it out without emergency procedures.
As your baby grows and starts breathing more like the rest of us, you’ll find this happens less and less. However, knowing life-saving techniques is never a bad idea as a parent, so take the time to learn and pray that you never have to use them!
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, exercising, and jamming out on her Fender. Read more about Leslie here.