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Starting Safe, Staying Safe

Easy to digest choking tips

Nothing makes a parent’s heart skip a beat faster than the sound of a baby coughing at mealtime. 

Is your baby choking?

This stress often builds as parents start to introduce solid foods into their baby’s diet. The good news is that choking, while scary, is largely preventable and not as common as you think it is. Of course, it’s still important to be prepared so you feel more confident should the situation arise.

This blog is your quick guide to helping you gain that confidence. Start by becoming aware of common choking hazards and follow some simple feeding procedures to keep your baby safe.

Common choking hazards

First, understand that the most common causes of infant choking are related to food and small objects.

Choking in infants is sometimes caused by breathing in a small object the baby has placed in their mouth, such as a button, coin, balloon or toy. To prevent this, ensure all small items and toys are kept out of reach at all times.

When it comes to food, choking can occur when infants are given solid food they aren’t able yet able to grind into small pieces. If inhaled or swallowed whole they can lodge in the throat. The great news is baby is  born with a great gag reflex which will, more often than not, help them to cough it back out. However, sometimes it can get stuck which can lead to the blocking of their airway. This can occur with foods such as:

    • Nuts and seeds

    • Blueberries and grapes 

    • Hard raw fruits and vegetables

    • 1/2 teaspoon or more of peanut butter

    • Small chunks of meat or cheese

    • Popcorn

Bad posture during eating can also create a choking hazard, particularly for young babies. Ensure your child is seated upright in a highchair during mealtimes to prevent the risk and never feed a baby when they are laying down or moving around. 

If a baby is unable to sit upright, it is best to check with your baby's healthcare professional or wait to introduce solid foods, especially finger foods, until they are able to do so as bad posture such as slouching can lead to choking.

Getting the timing right

While it is an exciting milestone, there’s no rush to introduce solid foods to your baby.

Introducing your baby to solid foods only when they are ready is important to reduce the risk of food-related choking. Your baby should be at least 4-6 months old before you consider introducing pureed foods, as before this they don’t have the appropriate motor skills to break down food. Young babies will still have their tongue-thrust reflex, meaning they push foods out of their mouth with their tongue when they are offered it.

It’s best to wait until your baby shows signs of readiness which is typically around 6 months of age. This happens when they:

    • Hold their head in a steady, upright position
    • Sit without support
    • Chews hands or toys
    • Show a desire for food by leaning forward and opening their mouth

If you are unsure if your baby is ready to start solid foods, check with your baby's healthcare professional first.

Protection and prevention 

All babies have a strong gag reflex so it’s useful to be able to tell the difference between gagging and choking. 

Noise is normal! When your baby gags they’ll likely cough and go red in the face as they clear the food. If they are choking, they will be silent. 

The best way to protect your baby from choking is to:

    • Keep small items, toys and batteries out of reach at all times
    • Introduce solid foods to your baby only after they are at least 4 months old and showing signs of readiness
    • Know common choking hazards when it comes to food such as grapes, nuts and hard chunks of food
    • Make sure you watch baby’s face at all times during mealtimes
    • Ensure your baby is seated upright in a highchair when feeding and limit distractions as much as possible

With this information in mind, mealtime should be much less frightening and much more enjoyable. Have fun introducing new foods to your little bub, and if you are anxious about starting new or solid foods or how to recognize and respond to your baby's gagging or choking signs, speak with your baby's healthcare professional and consider taking a first aid course for infants and children.

Disclaimer: The information provided is the opinion of Good Feeding, it has not been evaluated by healthcare professionals, and is for educational purposes only.  Before starting any new foods or feeding practices, please consult your baby's healthcare professional.

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