Baby Choking while Breastfeeding
Choking occurs when your baby takes more milk into its mouth than it can swallow at a time. Excess milk can spill into the airway and block the flow of air which leads to choking. It can be a frightening sight for any mother to see her baby coughing and sputtering milk while struggling to breathe. However, with a good understanding of how it occurs, it is possible to avoid this problem while feeding your baby.
Why do Infants Choke while Nursing?
Since it is a bit counter intuitive, many mothers wonder can a baby choke on milk? They definitely can under certain circumstances and it is more common than one might think. Excess milk coupled with poor feeding positions is the most common reason why babies choke while feeding. Here are two ways how it happens:
1. Milk Oversupply
Although some nursing mothers consider having excess breast milk a good problem than having little milk, it carries with it its own set of discomforts for both the mother and the baby. An oversupply of milk means you will need to try different positions for a comfortable feed.
2. Forceful Let-down
Excessive milk supply also leads to forceful let-downs in some women who have what is called a fast Milk Ejection Reflex. The milk releases from their breasts forcefully in an almost explosive manner out of the ducts. Look for these signs in your baby while feeding:
- Choking, gagging, gulping, coughing or gasping while feeding
- Clamping down on the nipple to slow down the milk flow
- Pulling away from the breast often
- Spitting up frequently
- Clicking sounds while feeding
- Refusing to nurse
What to do when your Baby Chokes while Breastfeeding?
When you find your baby choking on milk there are first aid methods that can be used to dislodge the milk from blocking the airway. Since babies have delicate bodies it must also be done with caution. Here are some tips for when babies choke on milk:
- Pick up the baby while supporting the head and put your arm around the baby’s chest while bending it forward slightly. Place a clenched fist on the baby’s navel and place the other hand over the fist and thrust inward. The thrusts should be given hard and quickly and slightly upwards into the child’s abdomen.
- Babies can also be turned upside down and given intermittent back blows and chest thrusts combined with gentle taps to the back to open up the airways. The chest thrusts should be given with two or three fingers on to the lower half of the breastbone while supporting the head with the other hand. This should be continued until the block is removed.
It’s important to note that if the baby doesn’t recover and becomes unconscious, he should be rushed to the nearest hospital while still being administered the dislodging procedure.
How to Prevent your Baby from Choking while Breastfeeding?
There are several ways in which you can control an oversupply problem and prevent the baby from choking. Here are some tips on that:
- Slowing down your milk supply is a good place to start as forceful let-down occurs when there is too much accumulation of milk in the breasts. While breastfeeding from one side, say the left side, with the palm of the right hand, press the nipple of the right breast in towards the ribs and count to five. This counter pressure when applied several times per feed sends a signal to the body not to let down milk in that breast.
- Feed from only one breast per feeding so the breast can be fully emptied with the added benefit of receiving all the fat-rich hindmilk. This would make them feel full and stop the feed. You can also try what is known as “block feeding”, a technique where the baby is fed only through one breast for a block of time lasting a few hours. This reduces milk supply in the other breast before you switch breast for the next block.
- Ensure the baby is latched properly. It has been observed that babies who do not have a deep latch on the nipples choke often while feeding. The milk which is supposed to go straight down into their throat accumulates in the mouth when babies latch improperly. On the other hand, a firm latching can help babies better handle the flow.
- Adopting an uphill nursing position is also greatly beneficial as the milk has to work against gravity to flow and it avoids letdowns. Having the baby feed in your arms as your recline on a surface is also a good nursing position.
- The down under position can also be used to feed the baby which works the milk against gravity. The mother lies down on her back and the baby is on top such that the baby’s tummy touches the mother’s. This shouldn’t, however, be done too often as it can lead to plugging of the milk ducts.
- The football holds while leaning backwards is also an effective feeding position. It is also a good way to nurse when you are out with your baby.
- When the other breast feels uncomfortable, you can express some milk from it and apply a cool compress to relieve the discomfort. As you continue this procedure expresser lesser milk until there is no need to do so.
- Avoid stimulating the breast in the form of unnecessary pumping, running water on them during a shower or using breast shells.
Precautionary measures taken before and during feeding can avoid choking in babies while they are being nursed.