For first-time mothers, the scariest part of feeding a newborn is not knowing what to do when the baby drinks milk too fast and chokes. Read on to learn why do babies choke on milk and how to prevent it.
If you are breastfeeding your little one, there is a huge learning curve for you and your baby initially. Even with bottle feeding, there are lots of challenges.
I breastfed both my babies exclusively, and now that I think back, it was hard during the first few days until we figured it out.
It was scary because my baby would start drinking milk too fast to keep up with the supply and choked every time during the initial letdown while breastfeeding. Fortunately, nothing serious happened.
But we had to figure out a way to prevent the choking hazard. Today, I am going to tell you, what you can do when your baby drinks milk too fast and chokes.
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Can Babies Drink Milk too Fast?
Some babies do drink milk too fast. The main cause of baby drinking milk too fast is either you are having an over-supply or forceful letdown if you are breastfeeding or the size of the nipple if you are bottle-feeding.
This results in babies feeding too fast and choking because they can’t keep up with the flow of the milk.
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Why do Babies Choke?
Babies are new to whole feeding skills. After birth, they can suck and swallow. Choking and coughing happen when they are not able to suck and swallow milk properly.
Most of the time, newborns choke on milk while breastfeeding or bottle-feeding because they are getting too much milk in their mouths.
A gag reflex often protects babies from choking, but because babies’ windpipe is narrow (so could get easily obstructed), choking is a serious hazard for them.
Some babies are more prone to choking than others. Certain health conditions that increase the babies’ risk of choking include,
- Oral structure abnormalities such as Cleft lip or palate
- Developmental delay
- Down syndrome
- Cerebral Palsy
- Gastrointestinal reflux disease
If your baby is frequently choking on milk, you need to see your pediatrician evaluate the feeding difficulties in your baby.
Why do Babies Choke on Breastmilk?
Infant feeding requires precise coordination of sucking, swallowing, and breathing. Anything that interferes with the baby’s ability to coordinate this pattern, causes the baby to choke on the milk.
As mentioned earlier, babies choke on breastmilk when they get too much milk in their mouth or try to drink milk too fast.
There are two main reasons why a baby chokes during breastfeeding.
Oversupply of Milk
When mom has an oversupply of breast milk, it causes milk to come out faster than the baby can swallow.
The overabundance of milk supply can be troubling for both mom and baby. Usually, once your milk supply is regulated after the first few weeks, your breast feels softer after feeding.
But when you have an oversupply of milk, your breast feels heavy even after feeding. Other challenges of having an oversupply of milk are excessive leaking between feedings, sore nipples, clogged milk ducts, and mastitis.
With an oversupply of milk, you may find your baby restless at the breast, coughing, gulping, spitting up milk, and arching away at the initial letdown.
Overactive or forceful letdown can also cause choking in babies. In this case, the mother’s milk slows fast that the baby can’t cope with the flow. This results in the baby gulping milk too fast and choking.
Babies also pull away from the breast or refuse the breast as they can’t cope with the flow.
A mother with an overactive letdown may suffer from a sore nipple because of a baby pulling and tugging at the breast. The baby may pinch your nipple to slow the flow of the milk.
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What to do if Baby Choke on Breastmilk?
Babies usually pull away from the breast when they can’t keep up with the milk supply. But if your baby begins to choke while breastfeeding, stop the feed, hold the baby upright, and gently pat on his back. Most of the time, propping them will help clear their airways.
But in a rare case, choking will cause the baby to turn blue and lose consciousness which is an emergency and requires you to call 911.
If you are a first-time parent, smart idea is to take an infant CPR class. The CPR class is usually offered by the Red Cross and it is very affordable. CPR class is often included in Newborn care classes if have not taken one yet.
Here is what to do, if you find your baby choking on milk,
- Lay your baby face down over your forearm and support the baby’s head and neck with your hand. Then give 5 backstrokes down and towards the head
- If the baby is still not okay, turn the baby over and give her 5 chest thrusts.
- Keep repeating 5 backstrokes and 5 chest thrusts
- If that doesn’t help, call 911
For a detailed demonstration, check out this video by Linda Nylander-Housholder, APRN.
How to Prevent Baby from Choking on Breastmilk?
Oversupply of breast milk seems to go hand-in-hand with a fast flow, especially during the first letdown. So, to prevent the baby from choking on breastmilk, you need to slow things down a bit.
There are several ways you can prevent your baby from choking on breastmilk.
Change Breastfeeding Position
Feeding a baby in a side-lying or reclined position can help the baby to gain more control overfeeding. Hold baby in your arm as you recline on your nursing chair and feed works best as milk has to work against gravity and it avoids letdown.
I loved feeding my babies in a side-lying position. In this position, it is easier for babies to let milk dribble out of the mouth and take a break when your milk flow is too fast for them. Make sure to place a towel underneath you to catch excess milk!
You can also feed your baby in a down under position, where you lie on your back and the baby feeds on top of you in the way that baby’s tummy touches your tummy. This position also works against gravity.
The disadvantage of this feeding position is that it can lead to clogged milk ducts if done too often.
If you feel your breast is too full before feeding, relieve pressure by hand expression or pump. Doing so allows the forceful letdown to happen before the baby latches.
However, you want to express the smallest amount possible (just enough to relieve pressure), because removing more milk gives your body a signal to make more breast milk and thereby worsening the problem.
Check the Latch
If your baby is often choking on breastmilk, check her latch. With shallow latch, too much milk with remain in their mouth rather than going straight down into their throats.
Deep latch allows the baby to better cope with the flow of the milk.
If you think your baby has a latching issue, get her to latch evaluated by a lactation consultant.
Avoid taking supplements
If you are taking lactation supplements or drinking beverages to boost your milk supply in earlier days, you need to stop. This could create more problems.
If you have tried the above tips and your baby is still choking on breastmilk, you need to try block feeding.
With block feeding, you will feed your baby from one breast as many times as your baby asks for it for four hours. You let your other breast become too full. The excessive fullness of this breast signals body to slow down milk production for that breast.
You can alternate breasts every four hours within 24 hours period. If you don’t see any improvement in your milk supply, increase the blockage time from 4 hours to 6 hours.
This technique could get your milk supply to a more manageable level. This method worked best for me to manage the oversupply of milk.
Why does my Baby Choke while Bottle Feeding?
Bottle feeding can also cause the baby to chole if not done properly. Baby choking while bottle-feeding is often due to the positioning and size of the nipple.
Baby lying on their back while bottle-feeding will lead to a faster flow of milk that baby can’t handle. Bottle feeding baby in recline position and not tilting the bottom of the bottle higher than the nipple will control the flow of the milk.
When you are bottle-feeding your baby, use a method called ‘paced bottle feeding”. This method allows the baby to remain in control of the milk flow.
This method of bottle feeding calls for holding bottle parallel to the ground. Thereby allowing the baby to work to get the milk from the bottle by sucking and taking a break when needed, as they do at the breast.
For learning more about paced bottle feeding, check out this ARTICLE.
Also, if your baby is drinking milk too fast from the bottle, check the size of the nipple. If the nipple opening is too large, the baby will drink milk too fast and choke. You might want to try a bottle feed your baby with a slow flow nipple.
What to do when Baby Choking on Milk coming out of Nose?
It often happens when the baby gets distracted from breastfeeding or bottle feeding with a loud noise or activities going around in a room.
It causes the baby to lose concentration and swallow lots of milk from a single gulp. Resulting in the baby choking on milk and coming out through the nose.
It also happens when the baby takes up a lot of air while feeding and end up spitting it from the mouth or nose when you burp them.
You can prevent this from happening by feeding the baby in an upright position, holding a baby in an upright position after feeding, burping often, and not overfeeding.
Can a Baby choke on Milk in Sleep?
It depends on how the baby is sleeping.
Baby sleeping on her back is less likely to choke compared to baby sleeping on their tummy. When the baby is sleeping on the back, their upper respiratory airways are lying over a food pipe (esophagus). So, babies protect their airway from the liquid by swallowing any liquid that is vomited out in sleep.
Also, in the back-lying position, babies can turn their heads and protect their airways if they do vomit in sleep.
Baby Drinks Milk Too Fast and Chokes: Conclusion
Here you go, mamas! Now you know what to do when your baby drinks milk too fast and chokes.
So next time when you hear your baby choking during feeding, take the baby off the nipple and hold him upright to help him clear their airway.
While your baby is still learning to suck, swallow, and breathe during feeding, help them by feeding upright and adjusting your milk flow using the above suggestions.
Taking precautions before and during feeding can avoid choking in babies while feeding.
Happy Feeding Mamas!!
- American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). (2011) Choking Prevention and First Aid for Infants and Children. Itasca, Illinois: AAP.
- Reuter S, Moser C, and Baack M. Respiratory distress in the newborn. Pediatr Rev. 2014 Oct;35(10):417-29. doi: 10.1542/pir.35-10-417.
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