baby choking on milk coming out of nose while sleeping

Preventing Infant Choking: Expert Tips to Safeguard Your Baby from Milk Inhalation during Sleep

Table of Contents

Common Reasons for a Baby to Choke on Milk While Sleeping

Choking on milk while sleeping can be a frightening experience for both the baby and the parents. There are several common reasons why this may occur:

Inadequate swallowing reflex:

Some babies have an underdeveloped swallowing reflex, which means they may not swallow properly while feeding. This can lead to milk pooling in their mouth or throat, increasing the risk of choking.


If a baby is given too much milk during a feeding session, they may struggle to keep up with swallowing and end up choking. It’s important to feed your baby at a pace that allows them to comfortably swallow and breathe.


Poor positioning during feeding:

The position in which you hold your baby while feeding can also contribute to choking. If their head is not elevated enough or if they are lying flat, it can make it more difficult for them to swallow properly and increase the risk of choking.

Preventing Your Baby from Choking on Milk While Sleeping

There are several steps you can take to reduce the risk of your baby choking on milk while sleeping:

Feed in an upright position:

When feeding your baby, make sure their head is elevated and supported. This will help prevent milk from flowing into their nose or throat, reducing the risk of choking.

Burp your baby frequently:

Taking breaks during feeding sessions to burp your baby can help release any trapped air in their stomach, reducing discomfort and the likelihood of regurgitation or choking.

Avoid overfeeding:

Paying attention to your baby’s hunger cues and feeding them at a pace that allows them to comfortably swallow and breathe can help prevent overfeeding and choking.

Keep your baby upright after feeding:

After a feeding, keep your baby in an upright position for at least 30 minutes. This will help gravity work in their favor, preventing milk from flowing back up into their throat while they are lying down.

Signs and Symptoms of a Baby Choking on Milk Through Their Nose While Sleeping

Choking on milk through the nose while sleeping can be distressing for both the baby and the parents. It’s important to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms so you can take immediate action:

Coughing or gagging:

If your baby starts coughing or gagging while sleeping, it may indicate that milk has entered their nasal passages and is causing irritation.

Nasal congestion:

A blocked or stuffy nose can be a sign that milk has entered the nasal passages. Your baby may have difficulty breathing through their nose and may sound congested.


If your baby starts sneezing frequently during sleep, it could be a reflexive response to clear their nasal passages of milk.

Immediate Actions to Take if Your Baby Starts Choking on Milk While Sleeping

If you notice that your baby is choking on milk while sleeping, it’s important to act quickly to ensure their safety:

Sit your baby upright:

Gently sit your baby up in an upright position. This will help drain any milk from their nasal passages and make it easier for them to breathe.

Gently pat their back:

Lightly patting your baby’s back can help dislodge any milk that may be trapped in their throat or nasal passages.

Clear their airway:

If your baby is still struggling to breathe, you can try using a bulb syringe to gently suction out any milk from their nose. Be careful not to insert the syringe too far into their nostrils.

Seek medical attention if necessary:

If your baby continues to have difficulty breathing or if they are showing signs of distress, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately. Call emergency services or take them to the nearest hospital.

Is It Normal for a Baby to Occasionally Choke on Milk During Sleep?

Occasionally choking on milk during sleep is relatively common in babies, especially during the early months. Their swallowing reflex and coordination are still developing, and it takes time for them to learn how to swallow effectively while feeding.

However, if your baby is consistently choking on milk during sleep or if they are having difficulty breathing, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional. They can assess your baby’s feeding technique and evaluate for any underlying issues that may be contributing to the choking episodes.

Feeding Positions that Reduce the Likelihood of a Baby Choking on Milk While Sleeping

The position in which you hold your baby while feeding can play a role in reducing the likelihood of choking:

Semi-upright position:

  • Hold your baby in a semi-upright position, with their head supported against your chest or shoulder. This helps prevent milk from flowing into their nose and throat.
  • You can also use a nursing pillow or reclining chair specifically designed for breastfeeding, as these provide additional support and elevation for your baby.

Side-lying position:

  • If you are breastfeeding, the side-lying position can also be beneficial. This involves lying on your side with your baby facing you, and their head elevated slightly higher than their body.
  • This position allows gravity to help keep milk flowing downward and reduces the risk of it entering their nasal passages.

Underlying Medical Conditions that Increase the Risk of a Baby Choking on Milk Through Their Nose While Asleep

Some babies may have underlying medical conditions that increase their risk of choking on milk while sleeping:

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD):

Babies with GERD may have a weak lower esophageal sphincter, which allows stomach acid to flow back up into their throat. This can lead to regurgitation and an increased risk of choking.

Anatomical abnormalities:

In some cases, babies may have anatomical abnormalities such as a cleft palate or tongue tie that can affect their ability to swallow properly. These conditions may require medical intervention to correct and reduce the risk of choking.

Ensuring Proper Burping Techniques to Minimize the Chances of Your Baby Choking on Milk During Sleep

Burping your baby during and after feeding sessions is an important step in minimizing the chances of them choking on milk:

Patting or rubbing technique:

Hold your baby upright against your chest or over your shoulder and gently pat or rub their back. This motion helps release any trapped air from their stomach, reducing discomfort and the likelihood of regurgitation.

Tips for effective burping:

  • Take short breaks during feeding to burp your baby.
  • Experiment with different burping positions, such as holding your baby in an upright position or sitting them on your lap and supporting their head.
  • If your baby doesn’t burp after a few minutes, you can resume feeding and try again later.

Foods and Drinks to Avoid Giving Your Baby to Prevent Choking During Sleep

When it comes to preventing choking during sleep, it’s important to be mindful of the foods and drinks you give your baby:

Avoid giving solids too early:

Introducing solid foods before your baby is developmentally ready can increase the risk of choking. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting until around 6 months of age before introducing solids.

Avoid small, hard foods:

Avoid giving your baby small, hard foods that they may not be able to chew or swallow properly. Examples include nuts, seeds, popcorn, whole grapes, and chunks of raw vegetables.

Avoid high-risk foods:

Certain foods pose a higher risk of choking for babies. These include hot dogs, sausages, chunks of meat or cheese, large pieces of fruit or vegetables, and sticky or gooey foods like peanut butter or marshmallows.

At What Age Do Babies Typically Outgrow the Risk of Choking on Milk While Sleeping?

The risk of choking on milk while sleeping typically decreases as babies grow and develop their swallowing skills. By around 6 months of age, most babies have developed a mature swallowing reflex and are better able to coordinate breathing while feeding.

However, every baby is different, and some may take longer to develop these skills. It’s important to continue practicing safe feeding techniques and monitoring your baby for any signs of choking until they have fully outgrown the risk.

In conclusion, it is important for parents and caregivers to be aware of the potential risks associated with babies choking on milk that comes out of their nose while sleeping. Taking necessary precautions and ensuring proper positioning during feeding can help prevent such incidents and ensure the safety and well-being of infants.

What to do when baby chokes on milk from nose?

When your baby is choking on milk, it’s important to make them sit up straight and allow them to cough and spit out the milk. If the child continues to cough, it indicates that the airway is only partially blocked.

Why does milk come out of my baby’s nose while sleeping?

Is it usual for baby spit-up to come out of their nose? Yes, similar to adults, babies have a connection between their nose and the back of their throat. As a result, spit-up may occasionally come out of their nose instead of their mouth.

What happens if baby spills milk from nose?

If despite the mother’s efforts to breastfeed in the correct position and address reduced milk production, the baby continues to experience nasal regurgitation, it is advisable to seek medical attention for the baby.

Why is my baby choking on milk while sleeping?

This typically occurs when a mother produces an excessive amount of breast milk. The La Leche League International (LLLI) states that common signs of oversupply include restlessness while breastfeeding, coughing, choking, or quickly drinking milk, particularly when milk is released, and biting on the nipple to slow down the milk flow, among other indications. (Source: LLLI, May 8, 2020)

Can a baby stop breathing from choking on milk?

Milk choking is when milk spills into the air passages, resulting in the baby choking, struggling to breathe, turning purple, and potentially experiencing a complete cessation of breath. If not addressed promptly, this can be fatal for the child.

What happens if my baby spits up while sleeping?

According to the NICHD, if a baby spits up while sleeping, they will either cough it up or swallow it to keep their airway clear. The organization also suggests laying the baby on their back to trigger this natural response and reduce the risk of SIDS.

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