1. Home
  2. Health

Can Babies Choke On Vomit While Sleeping?

We’re supported by moms. When you buy through links on our site, As an Amazon Associate, I may earn a commission.

It’s a common myth that babies sleeping on their backs can choke on vomit or spit up in their sleep and die as a result.

This belief comes from adults choking on vomit and passing away. It’s led to many concerned parents both making their infants sleep on their sides and losing hours of sleep. 

Although this sounds like a reasonable concern, parents don’t need to worry. Babies cannot choke on vomit or spit up during their sleep.

Infants are blessed with a reflex that makes them swallow or cough up fluid, even if it’s a small amount like spit-up. This reflex guarantees that the airway stays free from fluid, which makes it impossible for your infant to choke to death in their sleep. 

Most parents have at least one or two scares from this, but, according to doctors, babies will eventually spit it out or swallow it.

Most babies will have a panicked look in their eyes in the meantime which can alarm parents. Infants are unlikely to die from choking on vomit, but it can still cause some complications and deaths. 

Can Babies Choke On Vomit?

Babies are capable of choking just like any other person. However, choking on vomit for a minute or two before swallowing it or spitting it out is not the same as an adult choking on a piece of food.

Because vomit is liquid, it makes it a bit easier for babies to both swallow it or spit it out.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Infants have passed away due to vomiting. Some babies have also died from complications caused by vomiting.

Infants that have reflux, for example, might have so much spit up that it pools in their throat. Some babies cannot clear it on their own. If they’re laying on their back, it can be harder to push it out of their mouth. 

Vomit Can Be Aspirated Into The Lungs, Which Can Be Fatal

The story of a young boy named Jaxson is just one of many that explains what can happen when a baby vomits in their sleep. Like many moms that are worried, she was brushed away by doctors because her baby had reflux.

Unfortunately, he didn’t have the chance to outgrow it as many children do. Instead, he died from complications due to it being aspirated into his lungs and causing pneumonia before his first birthday. 

Children Can Die From Choking On Their Own Vomit

While research points towards this being unlikely, it’s important to note that it’s not impossible. For example, this toddler. She was put in bed by a nanny despite the fact that she was vomiting.

Soon after, she stopped breathing. An autopsy stated what her parents already knew: she had literally choked to death on her own vomit. 

Both of these stories show that it is possible, no matter how rare it is. That’s why so many parents that have children with acid reflux remain concerned.

However, there are things that you can do to take extra precautions to make sure that your little one is okay. 

Babies With Acid Reflux

hold babies with acid reflux upright

Parents of babies with acid reflux are particularly concerned that their baby will choke to death on vomit. This has been the case in some instances, but it is extremely rare.

If your baby is vomiting due to reflux, it’s important to give your pediatrician a call. They can give you helpful tips on what to do, and what not to do if your baby has reflux.

They can also make sure that the vomiting is not due to another underlying medical condition. 

Avoid Foam Inserts

Most parents think that small foam wedges are a great idea for babies. This puts them in an inclined position.

While it makes sense that the baby would have an easier time spitting out vomit that is in their mouths, this is not always the case. Babies that have acid reflux will also have a harder time coughing up vomit that is in their throat. 

Foam wedges, including those specifically designed for babies, also pose a suffocation hazard. Babies can roll over while on the foam wedge.

Then, if they cannot lift their head up, and most babies cannot hold their heads up very long, they can suffocate. Fisher-Price actually recalled a foam wedge because children suffocated when using them. 

Some of these products are also marketed to reduce SIDs. This makes them more appealing to parents that are concerned about infant death. Yet, it should be noted that these products are seriously lacking when it comes to research. 

Sit Babies Upright After Eating

The upright position can help little ones that have an upset stomach from reflux. However, this is primarily effective directly after babies are done eating.

Once your baby has finished their bottle, hold them in an upright position for half an hour. This can help prevent vomiting. 

Do Not Lay Babies With Reflux On Their Back Directly After They Have Finished Eating

If your little has just finished eating, and they’re known for spitting up, it’s important to take extra precautions. Don’t lay your little down to sleep for the night yet.

Instead, don’t lay them down until you have held them upright for at least thirty minutes. Then, lay them on a flat surface in the room with you.

This will help you hear them if they begin to choke. You can also keep an eye on them to see if their skin changes color. 

Instead, hold your baby in an upright position for at least thirty minutes after they finish a bottle. This will help prevent vomiting before it happens.

Home Apnea Monitor Use For Babies With Reflux

In severe cases, doctors may recommend a home apnea monitor. These are sometimes used in children without sleep apnea, such as babies with acid reflux.

This machine can monitor your baby’s heart rate and breathing rate, and sound if there is a problem. This can help you make sure that your baby receives emergency care in time, and it can give you peace of mind concerning your little one.

baby boy being fed

Smaller, More Frequent Meals

Sometimes, babies upgrade from a four-ounce bottle to a seven-ounce bottle. This can be more convenient for parents that no longer have to feed them every two hours.

However, those larger bottles can often irritate the stomach. Sometimes, acid reflux doesn’t show up until babies try to upgrade to larger feedings.

This is because bigger meals tend to upset the stomach more. Try switching your baby back to smaller, more frequent bottles to see if it helps reduce the amount of vomit. 

Do Not Lay Down Children That Are Vomiting

If children are vomiting for any reason, whether it’s that they are sick or they are upset, do not lay them down to go to sleep yet.

Instead, keep them up or in the same room as yourself or another trusted adult. Do this until they are not throwing up. This rule also applies to toddlers and older children. While you are waiting, give the doctor a call to make sure. 

So, Can Babies Choke On Their Own Vomit?

While the research is a bit controversial, the stories and medical reports of infants and toddlers passing away from this makes it obvious that babies can choke on their own vomit.

However, it’s unlikely. If you’re concerned, it’s important to follow the tips above to keep your little one safe.

Medical Disclaimer. All content and media on the MomInformed Website is created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice.

My name is Amber Dixon. I am a mother to three wonderful children, and recently welcomed a beautiful grandson into the world as well as into my home. I've learned a great deal about raising children through my own experiences as a mother, but also from several other places. While working at a daycare full time, I learned about childhood development, teaching children, and more. Through earning degrees in Social Work, I was educated about human development, including a great deal about children and childhood development. My education and experience combined have taught me a lot about children of every stage and age, and I hope that I can help you on your journey to becoming the best parent that you can be!