Swallowing is a natural movement that should happen subconsciously. A child who coughs with a swallow should be checked by a swallowing specialist (OT or SLP) for risk of aspiration and may need a swallow study by a radiologist. Choking is when the child’s airway is totally blocked and the child cannot get air through the throat into his lungs. If your baby is not able to cry or cough, if he is turning red or blue, he may have food blocking his airway. If he can’t cough out the obstruction, you will need to begin CPR after calling 911. Stay calm, assess the situation, and remember your CPR training. If he is coughing, let him continue to cough until he has cleared his airway by himself. Don’t pound him on the back. If you think he has some food stuck in his mouth, gently sweep it away with a finger to help him.
Gagging is a normal reaction that protects the airway. It is a response to food or an object touching the back of the tongue or roof of the mouth and stimulating a reflex to protect the airway from becoming blocked. As the baby puts his fingers and toys into his mouth, the sensory input from these items and from eating purees will gradually decrease his gag reflex. Mouthing non-food items is important, as it provides your child the opportunity to feel and experiment with lips, jaw, tongue and cheek movements that he will need for chewing and swallowing food. It is normal for a young child to gag when first trying out solid foods, but this improves as he becomes better at moving food around in his mouth and controlling where it goes. Once again If you think your child is gagging or choking, stay calm and refer to your CPR training.