Why Your Newborn May Be Gagging

Extra Fluid in Your Newborn's Throat May Be the Culprit

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 a Newborn May 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 and gurgling can be a cause for alarm, staying calm and allowing your baby to clear her throat through a gag and cough is key. In essence, this is their normal reflexes working to clear their airway.

What if There Is Too Much Fluid in My Newborn's 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). This condition is called transient tachypnea of newborn or retained fetal lung fluid syndrome and requires monitoring in the neonatal intensive care unit in the hospital.

The good news is that most newborns do fine with supportive care like oxygen and sometimes continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). This condition is generally short-lived, with the breathing difficulties resolving within 24 to 72 hours. 

Other Reasons Babies Gag or Gurgle

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

When to Seek Medical Attention

If you believe your baby is struggling to breathe, breathing fast, or developing new grunting or moaning sounds with each breath, it's important to seek emergent medical attention.

Also, if you believe your baby is choking (meaning the airway is blocked) signaled by your baby not crying, breathing (the chest is not moving up and down), or coughing, or if your child appears blue, you need to shout for help, begin first aid, and call 911.

A Word From Verywell

When you or a loved one gives birth, your precious little one brings lots of joy in addition to anxiety as you navigate her novel sounds, cries, and emerging personality.

Try to remain calm, but also trust your gut—get medical attention if you think your baby is acting abnormally or something is wrong. 

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2011). Choking Prevention and First Aid for Infants and Children. 

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2009). How Your Newborn Behaves. 

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2015). First Sight of Your Newborn After a Routine Vaginal Delivery. 

Reuter S, Moser C, Baack M. Respiratory distress in the newborn. Pediatr Rev. 2014 Oct;35(10):417-29.

Seattle Children's Hospital. (2012). Newborn reflexes and behavior. 

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