How can I make baby led weaning choking foods safer?

According to a recent survey of all of my social media followers, gagging and choking is the number 1 weaning worry. I get it, it was my biggest worry too when I weaned my children.

Each day around 40 under-5s are rushed to hospital after choking on something or swallowing something dangerous.

I’ve teamed up with Daisy First Aid to show you how to minimise the risks of choking and what to do if it does happen.

Firstly do you know the difference between gagging and choking?

What is choking?

Choking happens when something gets trapped in the airway, blocking it and breathing becomes difficult. Babies are at a greater risk of choking because they haven’t yet mastered moving food around their mouths and chewing. 

You may notice solid foods such as peas, sweetcorn and blueberries coming out in your baby’s nappy whole, this is because they have swallowed them without chewing.

Babies aren’t born knowing how to eat, it’s something they learn to do gradually during weaning.

Choking is not a good thing and it’s not something we expect little ones to do.

What is gagging?

Gagging is a protective mechanism to prevent choking and it WILL happen as part of learning how to eat.

Baby’s are born with their gag reflex near the front of their mouths much further forwards than in adults. This means anything, be it a toy, spoon or food can easily trigger a gag.

This sounds a bit grim, but think of what happens when you stick your fingers down the pack of your throat. You gag and can make yourself sick.

It’s exactly what happens with your baby, except that your little one’s gag reflex is near the front of their mouth. What this means is that anything, be it a toy, spoon or the food you offer, can easily trigger a gag. It’s not because of the size or shape, taste or flavour. 

Can I do anything to help stop gagging? by Sarah Almond Bushell - the Children’s Nutritionist

Can I do anything to help stop gagging?

Research shows that self-feeding long, hard stick-shaped foods (called hard munchable’s) help babies gag reflex move back. Examples of these are raw carrot and raw celery.

Before you ask, these are perfectly safe until your baby learns how to bite and get bits off. At this stage, these will become a choking risk.

Alternatively, playing with a weaning spoon, a toothbrush or long stick-shaped toys will do the same job.

Practice with hard munchable’s is usually only needed for a few weeks near the start of weaning.

Which foods present a choking risk? by Sarah Almond Bushell - the Children’s Nutritionist

Which foods present a choking risk?

Foods that increase the risk of choking are those that are roughly the same size as your baby airway or a £1 coin.

Common choking risk foods are:

Which foods present a choking risk? by Sarah Almond Bushell - the Children’s Nutritionist

  • Cherry tomatoes

  • Whole grapes

  • Popcorn

  • Nut butter

  • Crusty bread,

  • Hard apple,

  • Hard carrot batons

  • Hot dogs

  • Whole nuts

  • Giant blueberries

  • Raw jelly cubes

Should I avoid these foods?

In the main no, you just need to make them safer by chopping them into smaller, manageable pieces. You can thin nut butters with milk if your baby is quite young. 

Avoid raw jelly cubes and hot dogs babies really don’t need processed foods like this at their young age.

Is there a way of feeding that better when it comes to reducing the risk of choking?

Practising the Division of Responsibility in Feeding comes into its own here. This is where you allow your baby to be in control of their own feeding. 

Your job is to provide the food, decide on where to eat and when and then take a step back. Your job is done.

Your baby’s job is to decided what to eat, in which order and most importantly when they’re done.

When it comes to minimising choking risk, this teaches your little one about how far they can place the food into their mouth without triggering a gag. But importantly it also teaches your baby to grow into a child who has a healthy relationship with food. 

I’d love for you to read a bit more about this via this link if you have the time.

Food isn’t the only choking hazard

It’s important to remember that food isn’t the only choking hazard. Young children like to explore texture by mouth. Young children constantly putting things in their mouth, it’s all part of sensory learning. 

This means that any small item they can find could potentially be a choking hazard.

Food isn't the only choking hazard by Sarah Almond Bushell - the Children’s Nutritionist

Common household choking hazards are:

Buttons

Pen lids

Coins

Marbles

Watch batteries

Bottle lids

Toy car wheels

Toy figures aimed at older children e.g lego

Here are some tips on how to prevent choking by Sarah Almond Bushell - the Children’s Nutritionist

Here are some tips on how to prevent choking

  1. Always cut up food

Babies and young children can choke on small, sticky or slippery foods. Always cut foods like tomatoes, grapes and blackberries into quarters. Make sure sausages are cut into very small pieces, processed food isn’t good for them anyway.

2. Keep small objects out of little hands

Babies and toddlers examine things around them by putting them in their mouths. Keep surfaces clear of small toys like building bricks and marbles, and always clean up after playing, especially if you have older children. 

3. Sit them down to eat

Children are more likely to choke if they slip or trip while eating. Make sure children sit down to eat and drink, and not lie down, walk or run.

4. Stay within arm’s reach

ALWAYS supervise babies and young children, sit with them at mealtimes so you can be with them if they need your help.

What should you do if your baby gags?

As gagging is a normal part of weaning when your baby is learning how to eat, I want you to expect it. If your baby starts to gag on food, don’t rush in and try and help. If you do you will teach them that gagging is something to be alarmed about and it could lead to a phobia of eating.

Instead, you can say to your baby “oh that was a big bite, don’t forget the chew, chew, chew” and mimic the motions of chewing. It’s good if you can be sitting opposite your baby so she can see you and really over exaggerate the mouth actions.

As part of weaning it’s good to teach your little one how to deal with something, they may have eaten and perhaps can’t yet manage. Teach them to move the food to the front of their mouths and push it out with their tongue. You need to show them by doing this yourself first so they can see it in action, and then if they do struggle you can say ‘oops that went a bit too far back, push it out’.

You could also offer her a drink of water as she may just need some help to swallow.

What should you do if the worst happens and your baby chokes? by Sarah Almond Bushell - the Children’s Nutritionist

What should you do if the worst happens and your baby chokes?

Back Blows

Shout for help, but don’t leave the baby.

Sit or kneel and lay the baby over your lap, face down, head lowest, supporting the head

Give up to 5 sharp blows between the shoulder blades with the heel of your hand.
The aim is to relieve the choking with each blow rather than give all 5.

If you found this blog helpful I’d love you to check out my Baby Nutrition & Weaning course . If you are starting to wean your baby and you know you have to get them onto healthy family meals by their first birthday, this course is what will take you there.  It cuts through all the information about weaning, (which I know often contradicts itself), providing you with clarity.

Chest Thrusts

Turn the baby chest over facing up. Support the head and lower it below the level of the chest.

Use 2 fingers to give up to 5 chest thrusts.  These are similar to chest compressions but sharper and slower.  The aim is to relieve the choking with each thrust rather than give all 5.

If these steps do not work, shout for help. Ask someone to call 999/112 or use loud speaker on your mobile if you are alone and get emergency help.

What should you do if the worst happens and your baby chokes? by Sarah Almond Bushell - the Children’s Nutritionist

Keep repeating steps 1 and 2 and don’t stop until the blockage has been removed or baby loses consciousness.  If the baby becomes unconscious – Start CPR.

We highly recommend these steps are practiced on a first aid manikin and you attend an online or in person first aid class to learn more. www.daisyfirstaid.com

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