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5 Tips to Prevent Choking in Baby Led Weaning

Baby Led Weaning (BLW) is a great way to start your baby on solid foods, but many parents have concerns about their baby choking with this method of feeding. Learn the tips to prevent choking with baby led weaning.

ariel view of baby eating broccoli in a highchair

What is Baby Led Weaning?

Baby Led Weaning (BLW) is a method of feeding infants solid foods.

Instead of using traditional pureed foods and spoon feeding your baby, parents and caregivers provide appropriate size and textured table foods so baby can feed themselves. 

Baby feeds themselves soft, fry-like shapes of food while parents eat alongside them.

This method continues to grow in popularity as it can help babies become exposed to a variety of foods and can be easier for the parents to prepare than pureed foods. 

My family chose BLW with our daughter and we absolutely loved it. Read about the awesome benefits of baby led weaning and why my family loved this way of introducing solids so much!

Infant sitting in highchair holding a piece of meat to his mouth.

Can Babies Choke with Baby Led Weaning?

Many parents and caregivers hear about BLW and immediately are concerned with choking. 

In fact, it’s one of the main reasons parents state when deciding between baby led weaning vs purees for introducing solids to their baby.

Thoughts like: How can I give my child whole pieces of food and expect them to eat it? How will they not choke by shoving that chunk of meat into their mouth?

These are all rational and logical concerns. Choking is a risk for infants and toddlers learning to eat solid food. 

Approximately one child dies every 5 days in the United States from choking on food. Additionally, about 12,000 children go to the Emergency Room each year for food-choking incidents. 

While these statistics can be alarming, many of these food-choking incidents can be prevented.

baby eating bread the baby led weaning way in a highchair

5 Tips to Prevent Choking with Baby Led Weaning

There are ways to introduce solids via baby led weaning while reducing the risk of choking. Here are 5 tips to prevent choking when introducing solids to your baby with BLW.

The first thing to assess in preventing choking is your baby’s readiness to start baby led weaning. 

Make sure that your baby is showing the developmental signs to start solids so that you can have the most success with feeding and reduce choking incidents.

1. Avoid foods that are common choking hazards

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) both recommend to avoid feeding your baby and toddler several food items because of their choking risk.

These items include: 

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Chunks or spoonfuls of peanut butter
  • Large chunks of cheese
  • Large and tough pieces of meat
  • Whole beans
  • Hot dogs
  • Uncut grapes
  • Pieces of raw, hard fruits and vegetables, like carrots or apples
  • Popcorn or raw corn kernels
  • Uncut cherry or grape tomatoes
  • Uncut balls of fruit like berries, melon
  • Uncooked dried fruit or vegetables, like raisins
  • Dry and crunchy snack foods like chips, pretzels, crackers
  • Chewy foods like fruit snacks, gum drops, jelly beans, gum, marshmallows
  • Round and hard pieces of candy
baby gnawing on a sweet potato through baby led weaning

2. Choose appropriate foods in size and texture

When feeding foods using the baby led weaning method, provide foods that your infant can easily hold and squish. 

A good rule is to cut food into finger-length pieces so your baby can grasp it with their whole fist.

Make sure you can squish it between two fingers so that your infant can easily gum, gnaw, suck, and chew it. Check out these great first foods for baby led weaning to give you ideas on which foods to get started with!

parents watching baby eat food

3. Decrease distractions while eating

Introducing solids can be such a fun milestone! One of the perks of baby led weaning is that the whole family can sit and eat together at the same time.

While your baby is eating, limit distractions so that everyone can focus on the food and company in front of them.

Don’t allow games, toys, or screens to make an appearance during meal and snack times. This means for parents as well.

4. Supervise meal times

When the whole family eats meals and snacks together, this allows you to safely supervise your infant eating. 

Eating together also allows for great modeling of all family members eating. It provides family meal times, which have proven to be so beneficial for your child’s growth and development. 

baby boy sitting in a highchair

5. Seat baby in a safe position

Utilizing the correct type of chair for your infant is vital to ensure they are eating safely. Your baby should be placed in a high chair that allows your child to sit upright and has a stable foot rest.

See my list of the best highchairs for BLW if you need help choosing a chair.

baby eating broccoli baby led weaning method

Choking VS Gagging

Being able to understand the differences between choking and gagging can be a true life-saver, not only for your baby, but for your sanity as well! 

Gagging is actually a really common and normal part of infant development. To help yourself be more comfortable with this part of infant feeding, there are some key differences between gagging and choking that parents and caregivers can recognize. 

In gagging

  • Baby is spitting up food or making retching movements
  • The infant may often cough while eating
  • Baby will work to expel food and the episode will resolve
  • Sometimes vomiting will occur

But in choking

  • The airway is blocked and there is little to no sound or breathing
  • Baby will have trouble coughing (or not be able to cough at all)
  • Immediate action is needed to help remove the item from airway

A good rule to remember is that if your baby is LOUD and RED it’s most likely gagging and it will resolve.

If your baby is SILENT and BLUE, choking is occurring and your baby needs immediate attention.

baby girl eating a banana

Research Around Baby Led Weaning Choking

It is really common and a normal feeling to be fearful of your infant choking while eating. A few studies have been done on this topic and may help decrease fears around choking among BLW infants. 

First, a study published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics had mothers self-report the type of feeding style they used and the instances of choking that their baby had. 

From the mother’s responses, BLW was not associated with an increased risk of choking. And actually, the infants that were given finger foods the least had the highest frequency of choking on finger foods. 

Additionally, in a separate randomized controlled trial published in Pediatrics (the American Academy of Pediatrics publication), researchers compared choking incidents with infants fed in a traditional approach vs a BLW approach that provided education on preventing choking incidents. 

The infants in the BLW group did not appear more likely to choke than their traditionally fed peers. The study did note that a large number of infants were at potential risk of choking. 

Baby led weaning infant in a highchair holding a baby spoon in his open mouth.

The Risk of Baby Led Weaning Infants Choking

All this research points to the fact that yes, choking is a real danger to infants and toddlers. 

But it is NOT more likely to occur in BLW infants. Choking can occur just as frequently, if not more, in infants that are spoon-fed purees. 

Additionally, parents and caregivers that educate themselves and implement safe practices for BLW (which I mention above) can protect their infant from a potentially life-threatening choking incident.

Person with gloves on hands giving an infant dummy chest compressions for CPR.

Infant and Child CPR

One of the best things that parents can do to safely feed their infant is to take an Infant/Child CPR class. These classes will give parents and caregivers hands on practice and skills to know how to respond in the event that your baby chokes while eating. 

This CPR class from Safe Beginnings is 100% online and more affordable than many options because it teaches caregivers the skills, without providing an actual certification. Use my code postpartumparty to save 20%.

Hopefully you now feel like you have the information and guidance needed to safely use BLW to feed your baby.

It can be scary to attempt BLW for your infant and that is normal. But have confidence that with these tips to prevent choking you can safely use baby led weaning for your baby!

Amy Motroni
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