It’s more common than you think, and this mum has shared her harrowing story so that you know just how easy it is for your newborn to choke on your breastmilk, and what to do if it occurs.
“Scariest day of my life”
Most new mums dream of having such an overabundant supply of breastmilk that they never have to worry if their baby is getting enough. But for some mums, this ‘oversupply’ (or even a fast letdown) can result in baby struggling to keep it down. For this mum, the end result was her baby turning blue and being rushed to hospital with fears he was choking to death.
After feeding her first daughter for 18 months without a problem, mum Rebecca Taylor had never experienced this kind of reaction before, and had no idea that a baby could choke on breastmilk at all. After all, aren’t babies made to breastfeed?
She shared her harrowing story in the Breastfeeding Mama Talk Facebook page, recounting the frightening details of their ordeal.
“One of the worst things a parent could ever witness”
“Did you know that babies could choke on breastmilk?” wrote Rebecca. “Like seriously can’t catch their breath, call an ambulance trip to the emergency room choke? Well I definitely did not.”
She shared her feelings of helplessness and despair as she watched her baby turn blue and be rushed to hospital, hooked up to an oxygen mask “with tubes & codes being called out”, describing the moment as “one if [sic] the worst things a parent could ever witness”.
Thankfully her gorgeous baby boy recovered from the scary ordeal and, after a chest X-Ray, was sent home – with mum warned to keep an eye out for “aspiration pneumonia”.
The internet to the rescue
After consulting with a lactation consultant, Rebecca admits that she still felt confused and unsure about how to avoid this happening again.
“I would think that pumping a bit off that boob before feeding him may help but she said it’ll just produce more & make the problem worse. I’m just at a loss here.”
So Rebecca reached out to lactation consultants and breastfeeding mums at large on Facebook, and received hundreds of comments with some great advice about breastfeeding and oversupply and fast letdown issues.
A speech pathologist also weighed in, suggesting, “Please, please see a speech pathologist specializing in infant feeding. This is not normal, no matter your flow, and baby needs to be evaluated … A little coughing is something you can address with a little pumping or positioning, having to call the EMTs is something else entirely.”
What is really happening when your baby chokes while breastfeeding?
When your baby starts coughing, choking and struggling to breathe while breastfeeding it can be a sign that they are aspirating, which means that your milk has entered their airway or lungs by accident. If left untreated this can cause serious health problems in your little one, such as pneumonia.
Aspiration is often caused by dysphagia, a condition where the muscles that direct the liquid from the mouth down the throat into the oesophagus and into the stomach don’t work properly, causing swallowing problems.
This problem can be exacerbated if you have a forceful letdown or an oversupply of milk. Cedars Sinai Hospital lists the following symptoms and treatment of aspiration in babies:
- Weak sucking
- Choking or coughing while feeding
- Other signs of feeding trouble, like a red face, watery eyes, or facial grimaces
- Stopping breathing while feeding
- Faster breathing while feeding
- Voice or breathing that sounds wet after feeding
- Slight fever after feedings
- Wheezing and other breathing problems
- Repeated lung or airway infections
Treatment for aspiration may vary depending on the cause and severity. Treatments for your baby may include:
- Making changes in position and posture during meals
- Changing the thickness of liquids
- Surgery to reduce reflux
- Surgery to correct a problem such as a cleft palate
If your baby is presenting with any of the above signs of aspiration while feeding, talk to your doctor straight away for treatment.