Babies: Preventing choking when starting solids

I have a six-month-old daughter. She has been eating solids for a month. I want to start finger foods, but I'm worried she may choke. She doesn't have teeth yet. What can I do to help prevent choking?

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Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

Parents often mistake choking for gagging. Gagging is very common and is part of the process of learning how to chew and swallow. Gagging occurs when some pieces of food fall to the back of the tongue and trigger the gag reflex. At times this will cause food to fly out of the mouth or cause vomiting. Even mouthing toys and getting them too far back into the mouth can cause a baby to gag.

Choking occurs when food is too hard to chew, or too slippery to position in the mouth and it slips into the back of the mouth and down her throat and gets caught in the windpipe. The baby/child won't be able to breath or cough the food out.

To help prevent choking:

  • Always be there during feeding, or have another adult there.
  • Don't allow your child to run while she eats. Most choking occurs when children are on the run. Keep her seated.
  • Avoid foods that are hard to chew and swallow, such as hard candies, whole grapes, raisins, nuts, raw carrots (especially carrot 'coins'), popcorn and jelly beans.
  • Modify foods to prevent gagging (e.g. cook carrots or apples until soft before serving).
  • Work up to more difficult foods as her skills allow.
  • Don't get excited if your child gags. It may cause her to panic and cry, thus sucking air in and causing her to choke.
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