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Introducing Solids Safely: Gagging Vs Choking

It’s solids time! Hooray! It’s always an exciting milestone when your baby starts to show signs of being interested in something other than milk! But with that excitement can come some trepidation, especially around the safest way to introduce solids.

We’ve got the lowdown on the best way to start the process, the safest way to introduce different foods and how to manage the dreaded gagging!

Stop, solids time!

First things first, a quick refresher on when the recommended time to introduce solids actually is! Here at Milkbar, we adhere to the World Health Organisation recommendation that solids should be started around 6 months of age and alongside breast milk or formula. It’s important to remember that milk makes up the bulk of your bubs diet and nutrient intake for the first 12 months of life, with food as a secondary source.

If your baby is showing the following signs then it may be time to jump on the solids train:

  • Your bub will be around the 6 month mark, as per WHO guidelines.
  • They will be able to comfortably sit upright without support.
  • They will have lost the tongue thrust reflex (this pushes food and other items out of your bubs mouth and will start to disappear as they get older).
  • They will show an interest in food and what the people around them are eating (though its worth noting that younger babies who may not be quite ready for food will often show interest in what their parents are holding/eating and enjoy putting everything in their mouth).

Getting started safely

If you’ve decided to give solids a whirl then you’ve likely got some idea of how you’d like to do it, namely, whether you’ll take the puree/mash route or go with Baby Led Weaning. You can find out more about both of these in our ‘Introducing Solids’ article. Many parents will choose a combination of both methods but regardless of what you choose, the beginning stages will likely be more about sensory exploration than actual eating. And there will be mess. A LOT of mess.

These days, unless your child has a diagnosed food allergy or intolerance, almost all foods can be introduced from around 6 months of age, with the exception of whole nuts and honey. Gone are the days where you needed to introduce a single food each day or week. Mixing things up is totally fine and a great way to expose your little one to a wide variety of different textures and tastes.

The lowdown on gagging

Most parents will have experienced the heart racing moment their baby first gags on something. It’s not a pleasant experience and one which can cause a lot of stress and fear. It’s super important to remember that gagging is a reflex action that actually helps to prevent choking. When a baby (or an adult) gags, any large pieces of food get pushed to the front of the mouth where they can chewed properly or spat out, thus preventing a choking risk. Clever huh!?

Babies and young toddlers have a very sensitive gag reflex that can be triggered not only by food but by ANYTHING touching the back of their throat (including their own fingers!) When you start to introduce food, your little one will likely gag at least a few times. This is completely normal. They may cough and have watery eyes and spit out their food but they are not choking.

What should you do? As scary as it seems the first few times, staying calm and letting your little one work through the experience is generally the best way to manage gagging. Don’t automatically try to reach into their mouth and remove the food as this can actually push it back further into their throats. Your baby will likely either spit the offending food back out or end up re-chewing before swallowing. This is all a learning process and as they are exposed to more foods and textures, gagging will become less of an issue as they learn how to chew and eat properly.

Gagging versus choking

Unlike gagging, choking is not a normal response to starting solids. Choking happens when something becomes lodged in the throat or airway, obstructing the flow of air. When solids are introduced in a safe way, to a baby who is the appropriate age, choking is very, very unlikely.

To safely introduce foods and minimise the risk of choking, you should:

  • Ensure your baby is able to sit upright, supporting their head and bodyweight, without assistance (this should be happening around 6 months of age)
  • Comfortably sit in a high chair or other baby-safe chair where they can remain in an upright position and not slump backwards/forwards while eating
  • ALWAYS supervise your baby when eating. Sit with them and enjoy the experience together.
  • Offer soft foods that can be gummed/chewed and swallowed easily
  • Cut or slice foods in half or into strips to minimise the risk of them causing an obstruction.
  • In the early stages of solids, you could also try using a fresh food feeder like the Haakaa Fresh Food Feeder. This handy little gadget can be filled with a variety of foods, sealed and then offered to baby, ideal for baby led weaning and the first stages of solids introduction

What to do if your baby chokes

Knowing what to do if your baby was to choke on something (food or otherwise) is an important skill. If your child is able to cough, is responsive to you (crying, talking) and able to take a breath, encouraging them to keep coughing can often help dislodge whatever is stuck. If your child is not able to cough, is unresponsive (unable to cry or make any noise), The Sydney Children’s Hospital recommends calling triple 000 then the following steps:

If you are helping a baby

  • Place your baby along one of your arms in a head down position, supporting their head with your hand.
  • Use the heel of your other hand to give up to five sharp back blows between the shoulder blades. Check between each blow to see if the object has come out.
  • If the back blows have not removed the object, lay your baby along your thigh, in the head down position, facing you and give up to five chest thrusts. To do this, place two fingers on the lower part of the chest and push down, as you would with chest compressions during CPR, once per second. Continue to repeat the five back blows and five chest thrusts cycle until the object is cleared.

If you are helping a child

  • Lay your child across your lap or lean them forward, supporting their head with your hand.
  • Use the heel of your other hand to give up to five sharp back blows between the shoulder blades. Check between each blow to see if the object has come out.
  • If the back blows have not removed the object, lay your child on their back, on the floor. Place your hand on the lower part of the chest, as you would for compressions during CPR, and push down up to five times, once per second. Continue to repeat the five back blows and five chest thrusts cycle until the object is cleared.

It is important to remember that it is highly, highly unlikely that you will ever need to use these steps but it is always good to be prepared for any eventuality.

Starting solids can be slightly nerve-wracking but also super fun! Enjoy the milestone and experience of your little one exploring food and finding some new favourites!

Featured Product

The Haakaa Fresh Food Feeder & Cover Set is the perfect way to safely introduce new flavours to your baby without the risk of choking. Made with 100% food-grade silicone, Haakaa's Feeder is more hygienic, durable and easy to care for than mesh alternatives, which are incredibly difficult to clean and can rip, harbour bacteria and absorb odours. The Feeder is super easy to assemble and use! Simply place fruit or vegetables into the silicone pouch and seal tight. You can also freeze icy treats straight into the Feeder. Suitable for 4 months+.

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