Baby Almost Chokes to Death While Breastfeeding (Yes, It Can Happen)

Liz Alterman

mom and baby
BreastfeedMamaTalk/Facebook

When many moms are nursing, they wish they had an ample supply of breast milk at the ready to satisfy a hungry baby. But one mom experienced something few might be familiar with: Her strong letdown of milk caused her baby to choke to the point that he went limp and needed to be rushed to the hospital.

Clearly shaken by the ordeal, the mom took to Breastfeed Mama Talk Facebook page to share her story to make others aware of this potential issue. She wrote:

Scariest day of my life by far. Did you know that babies could choke on breastmilk? Like seriously can't catch their breath, call an ambulance trip to the emergency room choke? Well I definitely did not. Thankfully he's okay now, but for a brief while he wasn't & I've never felt more panicked or lost in my entire life. Watching my teeny tiny new baby get hooked up to an oxygen mask with all sorts of tubes & codes being called out is one if the worst things a parent could ever witness. They're just so small & helpless, but most importantly irreplaceable.

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This had to be terrifying for the mama, so naturally she asked for the advice of fellow parents:

I had no idea this was possible, I mean I understand how, I just can't believe it. 

I breastfed my daughter for 18 months & nothing like his ever happened to us. I suppose my question is what can I do about this? Any experience? Any other moms had this happen to them. I'm talking like limp, in an ambulance oxygen masks, & sirens type of drama, all from us doing what we're both supposed to be doing. I was told by a lactation consultant that I have a strong let down & maybe an over supply & maybe I should be feeding him laying down or to push down in my breast to stop the flow but I really didn't understand.

Because this seems like such a extreme situation, we asked Mika Hiramatsu, MD, a pediatrician at Castro Valley Pediatrics in Hayward, California, to share her insight. 

"It's not uncommon for a mom to have a brisk letdown of breast milk where a lot of milk can come out at once," she said. "However, it's quite rare for a baby in this situation to have to be taken to hospital by ambulance. Typically, a normal baby who is startled by a sudden gush of milk will cough and sputter and then quickly recover, provided that the mother recognizes the event and stops feeding."
 

Dr. Dyan Hes, medical director of Gramercy Pediatrics, agreed. 

"Babies often choke while feeding but most of them can be patted on the back firmly and recover without incident," she said. "This happens with both bottle-fed babies and breastfed infants. Sometimes they drink too fast and they choke."

She added, "In this case, the mother had a very strong flow of breast milk ... Some women have faster flow from one breast, and in this case I always recommend that they start the feed with the slower breast when the baby is more hungry. Sometimes the combination of a ravenous baby and fast flow can lead to gagging and choking." 

Several who read the post also offered their advice, which included seeking an evaluation from a speech language pathologist, preferably one who specializes in infant feeding:
 
 
 
 
Other moms who've faced similar issues offered their advice and empathy:
If no medical conditions are found, Dr. Hiramatsu says choking on breast milk is usually not a serious issue. "It can be helpful to bring the baby upright or slightly facing forward and pat the back," she said. "This is not generally a life-threatening event."
 
Dr. Hes also had a few recommendations for other moms with a rapid flow. "Mothers with a fast flow can also sit more upright and prop the baby's head up instead of being below the breast," she advised. "There are many nursing pillows on the market to help elevate the head of the baby while nursing. Moms can also give their babies a break while feeding. If babies drink quickly they sometimes need to burp during the feed and then go back on the breast. This helps prevent choking as well. Mothers with a fast flow can also learn to pace the feeds with frequent breaks."
 

She noted that moms should also be armed with as much life-saving information as possible.

"Clearly this is frightening for any mother," she said. "This is why all mothers are shown a CPR video prior to discharge from the hospital in the United States. We recommend to all our new parents to take a CPR course. In this case, her baby turned blue so she did the right thing and called 911, but if parents are shown proper technique they could initiate CPR while the ambulance is on the way."
 
We're glad everything turned out okay for this little guy and we're glad this mom shared her experience, as it's definitely one you don't hear talked about too often.
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