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Common Newborn Concerns: The Choking Baby

Understanding Why Your Newborn Gags and Chokes

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Updated June 02, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Newborn boy sleeping.
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A very common concern during those first weeks of your baby's life has to do with choking. Baby lungs are filled with fluid while she floats around in mommy's tummy, and so sometimes that fluid sticks around in the days after birth. While the choking newborn can be cause for alarm, staying calm and helping clear you baby's lungs, is the key way to handle the issue.

Why Do Newborn Babies Choke?

What generally happens is that when your baby is squeezed through the birth canal, much of that fluid got squeezed out from the contractions and compressions. Immediately following the birth, a health care professional suctioned out those fluids. However, for some babies, some of that fluid remained in the lungs.

When they cough, the fluid and mucous comes up, collecting at the back of the throat. That obviously might not be so pleasant to the newborn, so when they attempt to swallow what they have coughed up, there is a tendency to gag or choke. If you experienced a c-section or a particularly fast labor, your baby may be prone to that newborn baby choking pattern, since your baby's chest may not have compressed as much of that fluid out during labor.

How Can I Help My Choking Baby?

When your baby begins to gag or choke, pick her up and hold her so that her tummy is pressed against your forearm and turn her head sideways to allow the mucous to come forward, rather than pooling at the back of her throat.

Other Reasons Babies Choke

If your baby is choking during feedings, there may be an issue with the force of flow of the milk or formula. If bottle feeding, be sure to choose a slow-flow bottle and nipple. Be sure to pace the feeding, breaking suction periodically to give your baby a "breather". If breastfeeding, your baby may need help dealing with forceful letdown or an abundant supply of breastmilk.

For more information see: Newborn Development

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