Whether you've decided to try baby led weaning, or you're still exploring your options, a common question is, "Is baby led weaning safe?" Today I'm answering that question, and sharing safety guidelines you should always practice with baby led weaning.
No matter the feeding method chosen, many parents (and often, in-laws) are nervous about the start of solids with their little ones, especially with their first baby. And I get it! It's a new skill for them to learn, and our precious babies seem so tiny and fragile at that age. If you're thinking about trying baby led weaning but you're questioning the safety, you're not alone, it's one of the most common concerns. My own mom was super nervous when I started baby led weaning with Queen C, and she's still nervous to feed Little M. But rest assured. Baby led weaning is completely safe for babies!
Read on for the evidence and for proper safety measures when feeding your little one.
Is There A Higher Risk of Choking With Baby Led Weaning?
Choking is probably the number one concern for parents of babies starting solids, but research shows that there is no more of a risk of choking in BLW babies than traditionally weaned babies when supervised and given appropriate foods. (See this study for full details.) Regardless of feeding method, parents should always provide foods that do not pose a choking risk and make sure the feeding environment is safe (and supervised). Babies following a baby led weaning appear to gag more at around 6 months, but gag less at 8 months than spoon fed babies.
The Difference Between Choking and Gagging
Though there is not a greater risk of choking, BLW babies do gag a little more frequently, and that's a good thing! Gagging is a protective reflex that keeps baby from choking. Baby will make noise as she tries to push the food out of the back of her throat to the front, and may have a look of discomfort or watery eyes, but don’t panic or try to interfere. Baby will get the food out, and you can offer a drink afterward. Never try to fish the food out with your finger - that could push it further back and actually cause choking.
If a baby IS choking, he or she will not be able to cough or cry, may start to turn blue, and need immediate help. I like this resource for more information on choking versus gagging. And it's always a good idea to take an infant CPR course or first aid training regardless of how you choose to start solids.
Safety Precautions To Take With BLW
While baby led weaning is totally safe, you still have to make sure you're doing it safely. The same goes for traditionally weaned babies. Here are some safety rules to always follow when you give your baby solids:
- Wait until baby is developmentally ready to start solids. This usually means delaying until at least 6 months of age. (Read more about signs baby is ready here.)
- Always make sure baby is sitting upright when eating, never leaning back. Baby should always be in a high chair unless he/she is sitting upright in your lap.
- Never leave baby alone with food. An adult should always be present when baby is eating. (In our house, baby eats meals with the family.)
- Never put food in baby's mouth. He or she must be in control of pace and amount of food eaten. It is okay to load a spoon and hand it to baby or hold out a piece of food for him or her to grasp.
- Always make sure food is an appropriate texture. Food should be soft enough for baby to mash with the tongue on the roof of the mouth. You can test this by squishing the food between your thumb and forefinger. Foods that cannot be mashed must be large and fibrous enough that baby cannot break off pieces in his or her mouth (for example, strips of meat). Once baby has teeth, you may need to stop offering foods harder foods that baby is able to bite pieces off of.
- Make sure foods are at least as long as the baby's fist. (I like to make food the size and shape of my pinky finger.
- Avoid offering foods that form a crumb in the mouth.
Unsafe Foods For Infants
- Foods that cannot be mashed on the roof of the mouth with the tongue
- Very small foods, such as nuts, grapes, raisins and foods with large seeds (unless seeds have been removed)
- Raw vegetables
- Raw apple
- Underripe or hard fruits
- Citrus fruit, unless each segment has been peeled (see how to do this here!)
- Whole nuts
- Bread that is too hard or crusty, or bread that will become gummy and form a ball in the mouth, like soft white bread
- Food cut into rounds or "coins" such as carrots or hot dogs.
What was your experience the first time you fed your baby solids? Do you have a safety question when it comes to feeding your baby? Drop it in the comments below!