All babies are born with a set of reflexes that help them survive their vulnerable first years. The Moro reflex is one of them, and it helps babies quickly prevent themselves from being dropped by their caregivers. The grasp reflex is another, which is important for babies who need to hold onto their busy moms. Babies are also born with a reflex that lasts all the way through adulthood. The gag reflex shows up around six months, and it is meant to help prevent babies from choking on their food by causing an upward motion of the tongue. We all still have it. If you stick something far enough into your throat, your body will automatically try to reject it.
While it has its place in the protection of infants, it also can get in the way when it happens too often. Some moms complain that their baby or toddler’s gag reflex is getting in the way of normal feeding habits. Toddlers in particular can have an extra sensitive gag reflex.
If your baby has a gag reflex that seems to sensitive, you’re probably tired of feeling like you’re accidentally choking him at every meal. Like any reflex, the gag reflex is impossible to control. However, you can try minimizing the negative side effects in a few ways. First, always make sure your baby is calm and relaxed when it’s time to eat. Never let your toddler move around too much during meals, and never allow him or her to run around while eating. Another good way to prevent the sensitive reflex from becoming a problem is to introduce your baby to new foods early. Even if baby is picky during the switch to solids, encourage diverse eating. By doing so, your baby will become accustomed to different textures. Studies show that baby-led weaning can help prevent the interference of a gag reflexes in babies’ eating habits.
Your baby’s gag reflex could prevent choking someday if food were to become lodged in the throat, but it could also prevent your baby from getting the nutrition he or she needs. If you notice your toddler tends to spit out food automatically when he or she starts to swallow, bring it up to the pediatrician. First and foremost, your baby needs to enough food, so cutting food into smaller pieces or finding ways to suppress the gagging should be your top priority.
Source: Gill Rapley: Baby-Led Weaning: Transitioning to Solid Foods at the Baby’s Own Pace. Community Practitioner Volume 84 Issue 6 pp. 20-23 May 2011