September is Child Safety Month. Here at Ready. Set. Food! we’re dedicating the month to sharing ways to keep your little one safe while sleeping, eating, and in the car, based on parents’ most common concerns. Today, we’ll answer parents’ most common questions and concerns about baby feeding safety, so your little one will have a safe and healthy start to their solid food journey.
Learn when it’s safe to start feeding your baby solids, how to tell if baby is gagging or choking, how to safely prepare first foods for baby to reduce their choking risk, and which foods to always avoid feeding baby.
- When is it safe to start feeding baby solids?
- How can you tell if baby is gagging or choking, and when should you intervene?
- What foods are safe for baby, and which ones should be avoided?
- And how to prepare healthy first foods so they’re safest for baby?
Today, we’ll answer all of these questions and concerns about baby feeding safety, so your little one will have a safe and healthy start to their solid food journey.
Signs baby is ready for solids
For the safest start to solids, you’ll need to make sure baby is ready. But baby isn’t automatically ready for solid foods when they reach a certain age or weight.
Solids readiness is actually a developmental milestone. Baby will show several developmental cues that will signal that they’re ready. Making sure baby is truly ready before you start feeding them solids will help reduce their choking risk.
Watch for these cues from baby so you know they’re ready to safely start solids:
- Baby’s tongue reflex has changed. Their tongue brings food to the back of their mouth and swallows, instead of pushing food out of their mouth.
- Baby has good control of their head and neck, and can hold them steady for longer periods.
- Baby can sit upright on their own, with little to no support.
- When your family is eating, baby shows interest in table food. They may open their mouth, look longingly at your food, or even grasp for your food.
Gagging vs. choking
Once you’ve determined that baby’s ready for solids, you’ll need to get familiar with the difference between gagging and choking to keep your baby safe when they start solids.
Gagging is a perfectly normal reflex that helps baby’s body protect itself from choking. Baby doesn’t need any assistance from you when they gag.
But choking means that food has blocked baby’s airway, and baby needs someone to help them immediately. Choking may be life-threatening.
Always supervise baby closely when they are eating, in case you would need to intervene to save them from choking.
Here’s how to tell the difference between gagging and choking:
- Gagging is a loud process.
- Baby may cry or fuss.
- You will hear baby cough, sputter, or audibly gag.
- This means their gag reflex is keeping them safe.
- Baby will open their mouth and their tongue will thrust forward.
- They might spit up or vomit, but that’s just another normal way that baby’s body defends against choking.
- Don’t do anything when baby gags. Let baby work through it on their own.
- If you try to remove the food, you could push it back further and lodge it in baby’s throat. This will make things worse, and could cause baby to choke.
- Choking is a silent process.
- Baby won’t be able to cry, and it will be hard for them to make other noises.
- They will have trouble coughing, or may not cough at all.
- Baby will open their mouth, but their tongue won’t thrust forward.
- They will probably have difficulty breathing, because the food has blocked their airway.
- They may make high-pitched noises when trying to breathe.
It’s best to take an in-person or online baby CPR course from an organization like the American Red Cross. But this video from Nicklaus Children’s Hospital provides an introduction to baby choking first aid and infant CPR:
For more details on the differences between baby gagging and choking, please read our linked article.
Foods to avoid feeding baby outright
There are several foods and types of foods that you must avoid feeding baby. These foods are unsafe for baby because they pose a significant choking risk.
Avoid feeding baby these common choking hazards:
- Any hard, uncooked fruits or vegetables
- Uncut round foods
- Foods or food pieces larger than ½ inch in size
- Whole nuts (any type)
- Raw seeds (such as sunflower seeds)
- Any other hard foods
- Chunky nut butters
- Other chunky foods
- Smooth nut butters that are not watered down
- Other dried fruit pieces
- Hot dogs
- Candies (not just a choking hazard --- babies shouldn't have added sugar)
- Other overly slippery foods
- Honey (also a danger because is puts babies under age 1 at risk for botulism)
Lessening choking risk when feeding healthy foods
Some foods are choking risks, but can be safely fed to your baby if they’re prepared the right way.
Here’s how to lessen common choking risks so baby can safely enjoy certain healthy foods.
These steps are especially vital if you’ve chosen to do baby-led weaning, where your little one feeds themselves a variety of healthy finger foods:
- Cook hard fruits and vegetables (like apples and carrots) to soften them
- Serve softer, cooked food in pieces that your baby can easily pick up and manage
- Cut fruits, vegetables, meats, and cheeses into long, thin pieces if you can. These are usually easier for baby to grasp, and help prevent choking.
- Cut up foods larger than ½ inch in size (like strawberries) into halves or quarters
- Cut up round foods (like blueberries, grapes, cherries, cherry tomatoes, and meatballs) into halves or quarters
- To introduce peanuts safely, use a peanut flour or powder, or water down smooth peanut butter (see our previous article for more details on introducing peanuts safely).
For more details on safely preparing potential choking hazard foods, don’t miss our article on the most common choking foods.
Help baby learn to chew with a variety of textures
No matter which method you’ve chosen to start feeding baby, it’s vital to introduce them to a variety of baby-safe textures.
Introducing many textures early enough in the weaning process doesn’t just encourage baby to be an adventurous eater, by helping them form habits of trying foods with diverse textures later in life.
There’s a safety element involved, too.
A baby’s munching and chewing reflexes are learned --- baby isn’t born with them. So, when a baby starts to eat solids, they need practice to build their munching and chewing skills. Learning to chew different safe textures will help them eat more safely and reduce their choking risk.
Texture variety also helps baby get used to the process of gagging, so they won't be fearful of their gag reflex.
Babies need to understand that gagging will sometimes happen, as it's a perfectly normal way that their bodies protect them from choking.
But when babies get close to turning one year old, they start acquiring fears.
Babies could start to fear gagging and finger foods if diverse, baby-safe textures aren't introduced early enough. This may make it harder for them to learn how to chew different textures and keep themselves safe from choking.
So, strive to introduce baby's first finger foods by 9 months of age. That way, they aren’t fearful after repeated gagging.
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