About choking and gagging
It is normal (and expected!) to be concerned about your baby choking as you introduce solids. Even more so if you've dodged purees and are venturing into BLW territory. But won't baby choke on that banana? How can she chew food adequately when she has no teeth? Read on, mamas and papas:
The risk of choking is similar for puree feeding and baby-led weaning.
The most recent Pediatrics research (A Baby-Led Approach to Eating Solids and Risk of Choking, 2016) suggests that there is no greater risk of choking with baby-led weaning in comparison to 'traditional' parent-led feeding with purees. However, the study also found that babies fed by either method were offered food which posed a choking risk - in fact, 35% of babies in the study had at least one choking event - shocking! The lesson to be learned here: know the choking hazards and avoid offering them to baby.
Gagging is normal - and expected.
Yep, you read that right. The key is to remember that gagging is normal, and is different than choking. Gagging is an expected response when food travels toward the back of the mouth. Depending on your baby's physiology, how big the bite of food, and the way they are manipulating food in their mouth, you might see a lot, or no gagging at all. Don't panic when you do hear your little one gag - it's the reflex kicking in and they are taking care of the problem on their own. They'll make noises while pushing the food out of their mouth. They may have a look of discomfort, but not panic or terror. Here's a video of a baby gagging while eating.
What should I do if my baby is gagging?
Stay close, offer comfort (calm, soothing words can help), but don't interfere. And never try to fish food out of a babies mouth using your finger - you can actually end up pushing the food further back! Once baby has cleared their mouth, you can offer sips of milk or water.
Recognise the signs of choking in babies
Choking will look significantly different than gagging. The Red Cross says "If a baby is choking, they will be unable to cry, cough, make any other noise or breathe." A choking baby needs immediate help. Be prepared and know what to do: watch this simple video below.
Avoid choking hazards
How to safeguard baby against choking:
Don't begin weaning before baby is developmentally ready - typically at six months, but age is not the only sign of readiness.
Ensure baby eats in a seated and upright position.
Never place food inside baby's mouth, or attempt to 'fish' anything out with your finger, as you can push food further back into their mouth. If baby is gagging, allow them to use their tongue to push food out on their own.
Always be present, constantly supervising and watchful of how baby is getting on with their food.
Provide food which is the right shape and size for baby's developmental stage,
Know the signs of choking and what to do, as in the video above,
Do not offer foods which pose a choking hazard:
Skins, pits, seeds, nuts, small bones;
Dried fruits are too difficult to chew (you could instead finely mince and add as an ingredient in meals);
Round hard foods, such as grapes, cherries, and tomatoes should be cut into quarters;
Hard, crunchy foods which easily 'break' into choking hazard size when eaten, e.g. raw apple, raw carrot.