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Kids that gag or vomit when they eat

Many parents have witnessed their young child gagging or even vomiting when attempting to try to eat certain foods. This is quite a common phenomenon, and is generally nothing to worry about. Some children are simply adverse to new or unfamiliar textures in their food, and have an extremely sensitive gag reflex that is triggered when a particular food touches their tongue.

Gagging can look scary, and some kids can even appear to be having trouble swallowing or breathing, but gagging is not the same as choking.  Gagging actually occurs while the food is still on the tongue and before the child swallows it.

Sometimes a gagging problem can become long-term when anxious parents start to transition their baby from smooth to solid food and get panicky when the baby gags on the unfamiliar textures. But putting off solids for too long is just catering to the problem and won’t help the child get used to chewing new types of food.

Causes of Gagging

The gagging reflex actually serves a very important purpose:  It is there to help us expel food that our bodies feel is unsafe for us to swallow.

Kids can also have problems with textured food because they have trouble chewing: In these cases, kids may try to swallow a piece of food before it is properly broken down, which can cause gagging and even choking. More often this is seen in babies who have recently been introduced to solids, but can also be an issue for older kids with developmental delays.

Smooth foods with lumps can be the trickiest for children with a very sensitive gag reflex, because the lumps will come as a surprise when their brain is processing the smooth portion of the food. A typical example of this would be yogurt with granola mixed in or a soup or chili with chunks of vegetables.

Three tips for dealing with sensitive gag reflex

  1. Keep introducing the new foods and encouraging your child to try them. Kids need to keep experiencing that new texture in order to get used to it. The more he tries, the less likely his body will be to react and trigger the gag reflex.
  2. Whenever possible, allow children to feed themselves. Kids with sensitive gag reflexes tend to gag more when someone else is feeding them as they have less control over how much food is going in their mouth or how quickly it’s going in.
  3. For older kids, talk to them about their anxiety about trying new foods and explain that even though it’s difficult, the more they try the new food the sooner the gagging will get better. Tell them that that their negative thoughts about food might be making it worse, and ask that they try and change their thoughts before putting food in their mouths (for example, suggest they try not to think “this is gonna be so gross!”).

There are some medical conditions that could be causing chronic gagging as well, including swollen tonsils or adenoids or Gastroesophagel Reflux Disease (GERD). If you suspect that your child is in discomfort and not just gagging because of an aversion to a certain food or texture, it might be worthwhile to have him checked by your family physician. Otherwise, just keep offering the new foods and gently encouraging your child to try them.

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