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Essential Tips: How to Safely Handle Baby Choking on Saliva While Sleeping

Table of Contents

Common Causes of a Baby Choking on Saliva While Sleeping

There are several common causes for a baby choking on saliva while sleeping. One possible cause is that the baby may have an immature swallowing reflex. In newborns and young infants, the coordination between swallowing and breathing is not fully developed, which can lead to saliva pooling in the back of the throat and causing choking episodes during sleep. Another common cause is excessive drooling. Some babies produce more saliva than others, and if they are unable to swallow it effectively, it can accumulate in their airway and lead to choking.

In addition, certain medical conditions can increase the risk of a baby choking on saliva while sleeping. For example, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can cause stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus and mouth, increasing salivation and potentially leading to choking. Neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy or developmental delays can also affect a baby’s ability to swallow properly, making them more prone to choking episodes during sleep.

Possible causes of a baby choking on saliva while sleeping:

  • Immature swallowing reflex
  • Excessive drooling
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Neurological disorders

Tips for parents:

  • If you notice your baby frequently choking on saliva during sleep, it’s important to consult with your pediatrician to determine the underlying cause.
  • If excessive drooling seems to be the main issue, keeping a bib or cloth handy to wipe away excess saliva can help prevent choking incidents.
  • Elevating your baby’s head slightly during sleep by using a wedge pillow or placing a rolled-up towel under the mattress can also help reduce the risk of choking on saliva.

Differentiating Between Normal Saliva and a Choking Episode During Sleep

Understanding Normal Saliva Production in Babies

Babies naturally produce saliva as part of their oral development. It helps with the digestion process and keeps the mouth moist. It is normal for babies to drool, especially during teething or when they are exploring objects with their mouths. This saliva production is typically not a cause for concern.


Recognizing Signs of a Choking Episode During Sleep

However, it is important for parents to be able to differentiate between normal saliva and a choking episode during sleep. If your baby starts coughing or gagging excessively, has difficulty breathing, or turns blue while sleeping, it may indicate a choking incident. Other signs include wheezing, gasping for air, or being unable to cry or make noise.

If you suspect that your baby is experiencing a choking episode rather than normal saliva production, it is crucial to take immediate action to ensure their safety.

Preventive Measures to Avoid Babies Choking on Saliva While Sleeping

Elevating the Head of the Crib

One preventive measure to reduce the risk of choking on saliva during sleep is elevating the head of your baby’s crib slightly. This can be done by placing a rolled-up towel or blanket under the mattress at the head end. This elevation helps prevent saliva from pooling in the back of the throat and reduces the chances of choking.

Using Safe Sleep Practices

Following safe sleep practices can also help minimize the risk of choking incidents during sleep. Always place your baby on their back to sleep, ensure there are no loose blankets or pillows in their crib, and avoid overcrowding the crib with toys or stuffed animals. These practices create a safe sleep environment and reduce the likelihood of choking on saliva or other objects.

Additional Tips:

  • Regularly check your baby’s crib for any hazards that could pose a choking risk, such as loose parts or broken pieces.
  • Avoid using pacifiers attached to strings or cords, as they can become a choking hazard.
  • Keep small objects out of your baby’s reach to prevent them from putting them in their mouth and potentially choking on them.

By implementing these preventive measures, you can help protect your baby from choking incidents during sleep.

Immediate Actions to Take if Your Baby Starts Choking on Saliva During Sleep

1. Stay calm and assess the situation

When you notice that your baby is choking on saliva during sleep, it’s important to stay calm and assess the situation. Panicking can make it difficult for you to think clearly and take appropriate action. Take a moment to observe your baby’s breathing patterns and determine if they are in immediate distress.

2. Clear the airway using back blows or chest thrusts

If your baby is showing signs of distress and struggling to breathe, it may be necessary to clear their airway. For infants under one year old, you can perform back blows or chest thrusts to dislodge any obstruction. To do back blows, support your baby’s head and neck with one hand while gently patting their back between the shoulder blades with the other hand. If this doesn’t work, you can try chest thrusts by placing two fingers at the center of their chest just below the nipple line and giving firm inward and upward thrusts.


  • Do not attempt a blind finger sweep as it may push the obstruction further down.
  • If your baby becomes unconscious, begin CPR immediately while waiting for medical help.
  • Always seek medical attention after a choking incident, even if you were able to successfully clear the airway.

Sleeping Positions and Techniques to Prevent Choking Incidents in Babies

Sleeping positions play a crucial role in preventing choking incidents in babies. Here are some recommended positions and techniques:

1. Back sleeping position

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends placing babies on their backs for sleep to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and choking. This position helps keep the airway clear and allows saliva or any other fluids to drain properly.

2. Elevate the head of the crib

Raising the head of your baby’s crib slightly can also help prevent choking incidents. By elevating the head, gravity can assist in draining saliva away from the airway, reducing the likelihood of choking.


  • Avoid placing pillows, blankets, or stuffed animals in your baby’s sleep area as they can pose suffocation hazards.
  • Ensure that your baby’s mattress is firm and fits snugly in the crib to prevent gaps where they could become trapped.

The Link Between Excessive Drooling and Increased Risk of Choking on Saliva While Sleeping

Excessive drooling in babies can increase their risk of choking on saliva while sleeping. Here’s why:

1. Developmental stage

During certain developmental stages, such as teething, babies tend to produce more saliva than usual. This excess saliva can pool in their mouths and potentially lead to choking if not properly managed.

2. Lack of muscle control

Babies have limited muscle control, especially in their oral cavity. They may not be able to effectively swallow or manage excessive saliva, increasing the chances of it entering their airway during sleep.

Tips for managing excessive drooling:

  • Keep a clean cloth or bib handy to wipe away excess drool throughout the day.
  • Use teething toys or chilled washcloths to provide relief and encourage swallowing.
  • Avoid using necklaces or jewelry that can pose a choking hazard if pulled or chewed on.

Creating a Safe Sleep Environment for Your Baby to Minimize the Risk of Choking Incidents

When it comes to ensuring a safe sleep environment for your baby, there are several important factors to consider. Firstly, it is crucial to always place your baby on their back to sleep, as this position has been shown to reduce the risk of choking incidents. Avoid placing any pillows, blankets, or stuffed animals in the crib, as these can pose suffocation hazards. Instead, opt for a firm mattress with a fitted sheet.

In addition to the sleep surface, it is essential to maintain a smoke-free environment for your baby. Exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk of respiratory issues and can contribute to choking incidents during sleep. Keep your home free from cigarette smoke and avoid smoking near your baby.

Other tips for creating a safe sleep environment:

  • Ensure that the crib meets safety standards and has no loose or broken parts.
  • Avoid using crib bumpers or other similar bedding accessories.
  • Keep the room at a comfortable temperature and dress your baby appropriately for sleep.

Signs or Symptoms Indicating a More Serious Underlying Condition When a Baby Chokes on Saliva During Sleep

While occasional choking on saliva during sleep may be normal for babies, certain signs or symptoms may indicate an underlying condition that requires medical attention. If your baby frequently chokes on saliva and exhibits any of the following signs, it is important to consult a healthcare professional:

  • Persistent coughing or wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Frequent gagging or choking episodes
  • Poor weight gain or feeding difficulties
  • Excessive drooling or difficulty swallowing

These symptoms may suggest an issue with your baby’s airway, such as a blockage or structural abnormality. It is always better to err on the side of caution and seek medical advice if you have concerns about your baby’s choking incidents.

Steps to Take After Successfully Clearing Your Baby’s Airway During a Choking Incident While Sleeping

If you find yourself in the frightening situation of clearing your baby’s airway during a choking incident while they are sleeping, it is important to take certain steps afterward to ensure their well-being:

  1. Stay calm and reassure your baby. Comfort them and help them relax after the distressing experience.
  2. Monitor your baby closely for any signs of respiratory distress or further choking episodes.
  3. If necessary, contact emergency services or seek immediate medical attention if your baby continues to have difficulty breathing or shows concerning symptoms.
  4. Consider discussing the incident with your healthcare provider, who can provide guidance on preventing future choking incidents and address any underlying issues.

When to Consult a Healthcare Professional if Your Baby Frequently Chokes on Saliva While Sleeping

If your baby frequently chokes on saliva while sleeping, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional for further evaluation. While occasional incidents may be normal, persistent choking episodes could indicate an underlying problem that requires attention. A healthcare professional can assess your baby’s overall health, evaluate their airway function, and provide appropriate guidance or treatment options.

Situations when it is recommended to consult a healthcare professional:

  • Your baby experiences frequent choking episodes during sleep (more than occasional incidents).
  • Your baby shows signs of respiratory distress or has difficulty breathing after choking on saliva.
  • Choking incidents are accompanied by other concerning symptoms, such as poor weight gain or feeding difficulties.

Remember, it is always better to seek professional advice if you have any concerns about your baby’s health and well-being.

In conclusion, it is important to stay calm and take immediate action if a baby is choking on saliva while sleeping. By promptly clearing the airway and seeking medical assistance if necessary, parents and caregivers can ensure the safety and well-being of the child.

Why did my baby wake up choking on saliva?

Babies can experience difficulties breathing if they choke on their own saliva. If this occurs frequently, it is important to consult with a pediatrician. Potential reasons for this issue could be enlarged tonsils obstructing the saliva flow or infant reflux.

How do I stop my baby from choking on spit up while sleeping?

Babies who sleep on their backs have a lower risk of choking on vomit compared to those who sleep on their stomachs or sides. In fact, placing a baby on their back during sleep actually helps protect their airway.

Is it normal for babies to choke on their saliva?

Babies are most at risk of choking on objects they put in their mouth between birth and around 4 months old. This could include breast milk, saliva, baby food, regurgitated food, or sometimes mucus from a respiratory illness.

Why is my baby choking while sleeping?

If a baby is lying on their stomach, the tube that carries food (esophagus) is positioned above the tube that leads to the lungs (trachea). This means that any food or liquid that comes back up or is refluxed can gather more easily at the entrance of the trachea, increasing the risk of the baby choking or inhaling it.

Is choking on saliva serious?

There are concerns among individuals regarding the potential hazards of choking on saliva, as it can lead to discomfort and feelings of anxiety. However, individuals with normal respiratory and neurological functions do not need to be concerned about choking on saliva. On the other hand, individuals with dysphagia or other factors that may increase the risk of choking should be aware of the genuine danger it poses.

Can SIDS happen from choking on spit up?

Parents may have concerns about babies choking on spit-up or vomit when they are placed to sleep on their backs. However, healthy infants and most babies with gastroesophageal reflux (GER) do not face an increased risk of choking when sleeping on their backs.

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