A lot of new parents are understandably scared of their baby choking. The idea that your little one could be happily eating and then suddenly get into difficulties is enough to put you off finger foods altogether! Luckily the risk is usually a lot less than you might think, and you can easily keep it even lower.
Sit upright to eat
Babies are designed to learn how to eat and their mouths are shaped so that big lumps are pushed to the front and fall out (until they have learnt how to eat them). The system works very well, provided baby is sitting upright. Any sort of recline, in a high chair, bouncy chair or your arms for example, means that gravity pulls that lump of food back towards your baby’s throat. Choose chairs that allow your baby to sit up straight and let nature do it’s job.
Watch out for straps
If your baby does start to gag a little they can almost always sort it out themselves, but they need to be able to lean forwards. Straps that hold their shoulders against the back of a highchair might not let them move enough to do that very easily, waist straps or a separate harness could be safer.
On that note, feeding a baby in a car seat is best avoided especially while driving. They are strapped in so they can’t lean forwards, are usually reclined backwards and you wouldn’t be able to respond quickly in an emergency.
When you first start weaning there is a whole range of advice on textures, from smooth purée to giving them whatever you are eating. If you are worried about choking you might feel more comfortable sticking to finger foods that are soft enough to be very low risk – anything that you can mash between your tongue and the roof of your mouth or which dissolves easily.
The gag reflex
This is another one of nature’s clever designs, a safety net to protect your baby. Any lumps of food that move to the back of your baby’s mouth will make them gag, much further forward than they would in an adult. The gagging moves the food forward where it can either be chewed or will fall out safely. All that coughing and spluttering can look like choking to a worried parent but it’s probably not as serious as it seems. Rest assured, if your baby can cough or cry they can breathe and are probably clearing the lump on their own. Keep a close eye on them, of course, but don’t panic.
Foods to avoid
There are a few foods that are a bigger choking risk and are best avoided for very small children, or which should be cut up. Anything thick and “claggy” can stick to the roof of a baby’s mouth and form a ball they can’t shift. Things like peanut butter or lots of very soft bread would fall into that category. Hard foods like whole nuts, boiled sweets and lollypops are difficult to chew and jelly cubes (before being made into jelly) are firm enough to get stuck.
The other category of foods to be aware of are those that are the exact size and shape to block a small child’s airway. Anything that has a circular cross section could fall into that category, like grapes, frankfurters or cherry tomatoes. You can still use those foods but always cut them lengthways so that they don’t form a circle. Be especially careful with very young children, if the food has a skin (which makes it harder to chew) or on occasions like birthday parties where children might not be behaving as sensibly as they usually do.
Learn what to do
The best thing you can do if you are worried about choking is to take a first aid course aimed at parents. Really I think every parent should be prepared but it will also reassure you if you feel a bit nervous. Daisy First Aid offer courses for parents nationwide and First Aid for Life currently have a free online course specifically looking at choking (it appears as a pop up when you scroll down the page).
If you would like more information on all aspects of weaning, from what to give them and when to start, to allergies and equipment (including how to get all that cooking done), have a look at First Foods.