How To Keep a
Baby Safe While Eating
Safety at the table is one of the biggest concerns for parents and is often the reason why they are afraid to start their babies on finger foods. Knowing the basics for safe and baby-friendly solid food introduction will ensure a relaxed experience for everyone!
I remember when I gave my then 8-month old son Hugo thinly sliced baked apples for the first time, he grabbed 3 or 4 slices at once and stuffed them into his mouth. He started making a lot of noise and looked like he was struggling. I screamed, panicked, called my husband and was very close to calling 911 😳. Meanwhile Hugo vomited and two seconds later went back to eating like absolutely nothing happened. This whole scene must have lasted a few seconds but it was very scary and emotional! And although I knew gagging was normal, it can still be very disturbing to watch. So I’m here to give you all the tools you need to keep your baby safe, and to help you keep your sanity while starting babies on solid foods.
The number one tip for mealtime, and I can’t say this enough, is to make it a pleasant experience for babies and parents. Babies can tell if you’re stressed out and will risk associating mealtime with a not so safe experience, especially with parents who look uncomfortable or nervous. So whether you choose baby-led weaning from the get go or wait a few months, start when you feel ready and confident that you have everything you need. But once you have a good understanding of safety at the table, relax and reassure yourself that you’re well prepared to get started.
- Ensure that baby is always sitting upright
Not reclined at an angle, not lying down. When offered finger foods, and in particular in the early days, an upright posture ensures that food is properly chewed and going to the right place.
- Baby is in control of the food
Which means that when you give finger foods to your baby and unlike with spoon-feeding, baby should have complete control of what goes in and out of their mouth. As we’ve covered in the guide “When to Start a Baby on Solid Food?” babies have a natural gag reflex which will push the food out of their mouth if needed. It is important to not try and remove the food out of your baby’s mouth if they are gagging, if they’ve taken too large a morsel or have grabbed more than one piece and put it all in their mouth. Putting a finger inside their mouth might cause the food to go further in, past the gag reflex and increase the risk of choking.
- Gagging vs. Choking
An incredibly important difference! First, because choking is silent and happens when food or another object blocks the airway and prevents breathing. Gagging on the other hand is noisy, even a little bit dramatic, but it’s the way babies avoid choking, and learn what size of food they can swallow. Gagging, coughing, even vomiting, ejects food out of the mouth quickly. So Hugo’s natural gag reflex was doing its job! Which is why it’s so important to know the difference. But of course an adult’s presence to monitor the meal is always mandatory during mealtime.
- Learn how to safely serve foods to your baby
What you need to know:
- Size and shape
When starting on finger foods, it is safer to serve large stick-shape foods vs. bite-sized pieces as babies will have to grab the food with their entire hand and will have to take a bite instead of putting it all in their mouth.
Food will need to be soft enough so it can be squished without needing teeth! So any hard fruits or vegetables will need to be cooked through to make them safe (carrot, apple, broccoli…). Softer foods (banana, avocado or even pears and peaches) can be served raw in finger sized pieces.
- Avoid anything that is hard, small and round
Avoid grapes, cherry tomatoes, olives etc in the early stages. But if you do serve these, make sure you quarter them lengthwise. It is advisable to wait until your baby has mastered the art of maneuvering food in their mouth as well as picking small pieces of food easily.
If you’d like to learn more about how to safely serve different types of food such as vegetables, fruits, meat or fish, reach out so we can discuss in detail during a consultation!
- Take a CPR course to gain more confidence
If you feel that you still need to gain more confidence and would like to learn more before starting this adventure, I recommend that you book an infant CPR course to educate yourself. In any case, CPR is a lifesaving skill and easy to learn. I’ve shared the links to two videos to understand the basics of First Aid when choking, and basic CPR training. You’re all prepared!