Why Your Newborn May Be Gagging

Knowing What Is Normal and What Is Not

Newborn baby laying on blanket
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Newborns tend to be quite noisy, making a variety of sounds besides crying, like sneezing and hiccuping. Most of these noises are reactions to new sound disturbances around them and are healthy signs that their nervous system is functioning and maturing.

But, you may have also heard your newborn make a gagging or gurgling noise, and this can be understandably alarming. Besides just a normal clearing of his throat, there may be other reasons why your precious newborn is gagging, and it starts with some fluid left over in his lungs during pregnancy.

Why Newborns Gag or Gurgle

While a newborn baby is still inside her mother's uterus, her lungs are filled with fluid. Late in the pregnancy and before birth, fluid-secreting channels begin removing fluid from the baby's lungs, preparing her to take his first breath.

The passing of the baby through the mother's birth canal further helps to clear fluid from the lungs. This is because as the baby moves through the birth canal with contractions, his chest is being compressed, which leads to the fluid being squeezed out from the lungs. In addition, immediately following birth, a doctor suctions out the fluid to further clear the throat.

However, for some babies, the fluid remains in the lungs, sticking around for a few days after birth. This can cause the baby to cough, as she tries to clear the fluid herself. Then, when the baby coughs or gags, the fluid and mucus come up, collecting at the back of the throat. This may then lead to a gagging or gurgling sound. 

While your newborn gagging can be alarming, try to stay calm and allow your baby's natural reflexes to help clear the airways. If the gagging persists, call your doctor or go to the nearest emergency room.

Gagging During Feeding

If your baby is gagging during feedings, there may be an issue with the force of the flow of milk or formula. If bottle feeding, be sure to choose a slow-flow bottle and nipple. Pace the feeding and break the 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.

In addition, your newborn may gurgle simply because of air passing through the saliva or from refluxed milk. This will go away as your newborn learns to swallow more frequently instead of letting the saliva build up. 

Fluid in the Lungs

For some newborns, not enough fluid is cleared from the lungs during labor and with the baby's own reflexes. In this instance, a newborn may have trouble breathing, as evidenced by rapid breaths (more than 60 breaths per minute).

The condition, known as transient tachypnea of the newborn (TTN) or wet lung disease, requires monitoring in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in the hospital.

Treatment of TTN includes supplemental oxygen and sometimes continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). Most newborns respond well to treatment, with breathing difficulties usually resolving within 24 to 72 hours.

A Word From Verywell

It is understandable to feel anxiety and even fear if your baby appears to be choking or in distress. Try to remain calm and assess the symptoms without jumping to conclusions.

However, if you think that your baby is acting abnormally or something is seriously wrong, don't wait; seek medical care immediately.

When to Call 911

If your baby experiences any of the following symptoms, call 911 or rush to your nearest emergency room:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Ribs and chest pulling inward when inhaling
  • Soft or high-pitched sounds while inhaling
  • Inability to cry or make much sound
  • Weak, ineffective coughing
  • Bluish skin color (cyanosis)
  • Loss of consciousness

If your baby stops breathing, do not waste time racing through traffic or waiting for the paramedics to arrive. Call 911 and begin infant CPR. If you haven't been taught how to do this, find a CPR class near you.

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