When it comes to weaning, the biggest concern that many parents naturally have is around their baby gagging or choking. The first step in being prepared for this is to know the difference between the two.
Gagging is a really normal part of your baby’s weaning journey and is simply a way for a baby to remove any food that isn’t ready to be swallowed. Some babies gag more than others and have quite a sensitive reflex. The gag reflex starts to lesson at around six months and gradually integrates so it is more similar to adults. Exposure to multiple textures, including purees, lumps and finger foods, helps babies to learn how to cope with foods better and can lessen the gag response.
Choking is much less common than gagging and you can read all about the differences below. If you’re nervous about it, I recommend doing a first aid session before your weaning journey starts.
How to prep for weaning when it comes to choking?
When it comes to choking, there isn’t much you can do to prevent it happening other than take precautions, always sit with baby and do some food prep beforehand.
Some of the things I would recommend you try to get your confidence up and help reduce anxiety around choking include:
✅ Do a child first aid course BEFORE you start weaning your baby – this can help you to learn life-saving skills that should make you more self-assured
✅ Check out some of the videos online to refresh/teach yourself how to cope with choking if it happens to your little one
✅Wait until baby is ready before offering solid foods. It’s best if baby is able to sit up and hold their head and neck steady so that they can swallow solid foods more easily and concentrate on their hand and mouth movement instead
Gagging Vs Choking – the big difference!
The images below show the big differences between gagging and choking and what to look out for/what to do if the incidence arises.
Gagging during weaning is very normal
Gagging is completely normal and often happens a lot during the weaning journey and in early infancy, a baby’s gag reflex is in the middle area of the tongue/mouth.
During weaning and between 6-7 months of age (roughly) the gag reflex starts to move further towards the back of the tongue. Therefore gagging usually happens less as baby gets more experienced with food.
There are actually four types of feeding behaviours that infants use when eating:
Suckling and sucking are innate but munching and chewing are learned as a result of offering baby a wide variety of food textures. That’s why it is SO important to offer babies smooth, mashed AND lumpy textures. As well as an array of different finger foods during their weaning journey.
Starting weaning with smoother textures and super soft finger foods is fine. But it’s important to move baby on to thicker and thicker textures and more firm foods as baby gets more confident. In fact, some research suggests that offering baby lumpy foods BEFORE they reach 9 months of age is important.
Early munching behaviours are seen between 4-7 months of age. Chewing usually starts to occur from around 7 months of age – when baby’s tongue starts to be able to move foods around the mouth more effectively. The process of chewing & also dealing with firmer & more textured foods becomes more efficient throughout the first few years of life. Especially with plenty of practice and experience.
Ultimately, it’s important to offer lumps & finger foods to baby, even from early on during weaning. Keep progressing to firmer lumps/textures and finger foods to help baby cope.
Preventing Choking During Weaning (as much as possible)
Often with the parents I speak to, one of their biggest fears when introducing solid food is choking…
In all honesty, children and adults can realistically choke on anything. However there are certain foods that pose more of a risk of choking for young babies and children…!
During weaning you will soon learn your own child’s abilities with food. Some babies have excellent chewing skills (& teeth) early on & are able to cope with harder foods and textures more easily than others. It’s about being led by your baby. Watching and observing their skill set and trying to encourage, role model and support them to move forwards gently as they go.
What foods are a choking risk for my baby?
Some of the main choking culprit foods for babies include apples, carrots, grapes, nuts, seeds, blueberries, olives, cherry tomatoes, cheese sticks and dates. The images below show how you can prepare them to ensure they are less of a risk to your baby.
It’s not an exhaustive list, but I would say it includes most of the main culprits. You don’t have to avoid most of these foods, just present them in ways that are more manageable for children (the hard sweets on the bottom are best avoided).
As your little one gets more confident & experienced with eating they will be able to move towards some of the food in the first picture. But remember that whole nuts and whole grapes are not recommended until children are around five years of age!
What to do if baby chokes
The NHS and Start for Life publish a guide to choking and gagging in feeding babies which explains what to do if you think your child is choking:
- shout for help
- get them out of the high chair
- support their chest and chin with one hand and – with the heel of your hand – give 5 sharp blows between the shoulder blades
The page also shares a video demonstrating what gagging in babies looks like that you may like to watch. Read this guide for more (non-food specific) NHS advice on preventing a child from choking.