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Gagging or vomiting during meals

Image by Harry Grout

Gagging is a normal, natural reflex action that serves as a built-in safety mechanism to keep you from choking. It's a common reaction in infants who are transitioning from smooth to lumpy foods or learning to chew. It can be triggered by fingers, food, or toys touching the back of the mouth.


The gag reflex is strong early in infancy, but it usually fades around 6 months of age, which coincides with the age at which most babies begin to eat solid foods.

Gagging helps babies understand the size and shape of food so that they can safely swallow it . Exploring the mouth with hands and toys, as well as encouraging feeding independence, aids in the reduction of the gag reflex. Some children, however, will gag or vomit if they are given non-smooth pureed foods. This is frequently caused by a hypersensitive gag reflex, causing you to gag more easily.

Gagging is usually not a cause for concern if it does not appear to bother the baby and if he or she is gaining weight appropriately and following his or her growth curve. Gagging is not the same as choking, which occurs when the airway becomes blocked and prevents breathing. Unlike choking, which is silent, gagging causes the child to make retching noises.


Causes of gagging

The gag reflex is normally activated somewhere on the tongue; most babies gag when learning to feed, and they have a very sensitive gag reflex when attempting to eat lumpy or texture foods. The gag reflex aids in the expulsion of food that our bodies find dangerous to eat or drink. This can be very frightening, as the child can turn red and appear upset.


Gagging occurs when children eat textured foods because they have difficulty swallowing. These kids will attempt to chew food that hasn't been properly broken down. They will gag and choke as a result of this. This is common in children who are just learning to chew. Children with delays in their motor skills are more likely to have delays in their chewing abilities as well. If your child is eating solid foods, make sure they can chew them properly.


Difference between a gag reflex and a swallowing problem

It is common for parents to believe that gagging while eating is caused by a swallowing problem. Children with a highly sensitive gag reflex will gag when new foods are still in their mouth before they try to swallow them. This can happen if the food is close to the front, middle, or back of the mouth. Children who have a swallowing problem have difficulty after the food has been swallowed. 

Benefits of Gagging and coughing 

Gagging and coughing are both noisy and dramatic, but they can also be helpful. Since the gag reflex in younger babies' mouths is very far forward and moves back as they mature, they can gag and cough frequently when beginning finger foods. When a baby is learning to feed, he or she can vomit for a variety of reasons. If the baby is gagging excessively, vomiting is the next normal reaction that will help them remove the food from their passageway completely.



Vomiting is defined as expulsion with force of the contents of the stomach via the mouth or sometimes the nose, also known of as emesis. 

Possible Causes of vomiting

  • The child may vomit several times per week but does not appear to be ill; this is a common occurrence in younger children. Some toddlers vomit when they ares crying or When they have too much food in their mouth. There are numerous possible causes of persistent vomiting in young children. the following are the most common : 


  • Appendicitis: accompanied by abdominal  pain and mild fever.


  • Gastroenteritis: stomach flu commonly caused by the rotavirus in children, also causes watery diarrhea, typically lasts up to a week

  • Motion sickness, If your child is throwing up with no other symptoms, may have sometimes accompanied by sweat, fatigue and loss of appetite

  • Head trauma : vomiting is one sign of a serious head injury


  • Food allergy or intolerance: symptoms can include vomiting, facial swelling, and an itchy, red skin rash

  • Pyloric stenosis: the child's stomach is too narrow for food to pass through


Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD): 


Recurrent vomiting in children is could be  caused by gastroesophageal reflux. According to Mayo Clinic, this happens when stomach contents move back up the esophagus, causing vomiting in some children. Higher intra-abdominal pressure will aggravate gastroesophageal reflux by increasing the likelihood of stomach contents traveling up the esophagus the wrong way. Coughing, laughing, crying, running, or playing can cause your child to vomit and an indication that they're suffering from reflux.


  • Medications or Poison: certain medications cause vomiting in toddlers or

      Consumption of a toxic chemical or substance


  •  Infection: vomiting is a symptom of some infections including pneumonia, meningitis, and urinary tract infections (UTI)


When your Child's Vomiting is an Emergency

  • While vomiting in young children is usually not dangerous, it is helpful to understand the signs that they require immediate medical attention, such as:

  • Vomiting accompanied by a fever or Blood 

  • Projectile or forceful vomiting

  • Intense stomach pain

  • Headache and neck stiffness

  • dysuria or Blood in urine

  • Confusion and lethargy

  • tachycardia or tachypnea


If the cause isn't immediately apparent, your pediatrician may order blood tests, urine tests, stool cultures, or X-rays to make a clear diagnosis.  If you believe your child may benefit from feeding therapy, please schedule a consultation with one of our therapists here.

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