Babies will vary in their stages of development and what foods they can manage and when. It’s important to continue to progress the texture of baby’s foods from puréed to mashed to lumpy, and then to more family style foods at 12 months. The increase in textures of foods is important for babies to develop biting and chewing skills and encourage acceptance of a wide variety of foods. Learning to chew stimulates and strengthens jaw muscles needed for speech. To reduce the risk of choking only offer food that is an appropriate soft texture and shape for your young child’s developmental stage and eating ability.
Young children with small air and food passages can easily choke, especially on small hard round foods. They are also still learning to move food around in their mouths and their biting and chewing skills are still developing.
Gagging isn’t the same thing as choking
Gagging on food is quite normal, noisy and prevents choking because it brings food forward in the mouth away from the throat. It’s quite common for babies learning to eat to sometimes gag as they master the art of moving food from the front of the mouth to the back and swallowing at the right time. When babies gag they might cough and splutter and their eyes may water. Try not to panic if gagging happens (it’s hard, we know!) and talk calmly to your baby, reassuring them that they are ok as they eventually spit out or swallow the mouthful. The gag reflex is designed to protect baby's airways and helps them 'cough' food to the front of their mouth so they can either spit it out, or 'chew' it more to make it safe to swallow.
Choking on the other hand is silent and scary because the airway is blocked and they can’t breathe. A child who appears to be choking will require help straight away.
To help prevent choking:
- Make sure your baby or toddler is sitting down while eating
- Always stay close by and keep an eye on them while they are eating or drinking
- Offer food that matches their chewing and biting abilities
Food choking hazards to watch out for:
Some foods are choking hazards for little ones and should not be given to children under three years of age. Examples to avoid:
- Whole nuts and seeds
- Hard raw pieces of fruit and vegetables e.g. carrot, apple and celery
- Whole cherry tomatoes or grapes
- Rounds of sausage or big chunks of cooked meat
- Lollies (hard or soft – including marshmallows)
- Meat or fish bones
To reduce the risk of choking on foods you can:
Remove the high risk parts of the food and alter the food texture and shape to make it easier for baby to chew and swallow. For example:
- Peel off the skin, remove the strong fibres, remove the seeds and pips, carefully remove any bones
- Cook hard fruit and vegetables until soft, and puree, mash or finely chop
- Cut round foods like grapes and tomatoes into quarters, chop meat finely
- Use a thin spread of smooth nut or seed butter
Besides the above, the best thing you can do to avoid choking is to always ensure your child is sitting down and to keep an eye on them whilst they are eating.
Learn what to do if your child chokes:
For information and training on choking first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), speak to your health professional.
References and for more information:
Choking prevention and choking risks. Raising Children Network (Australia) Limited. https://raisingchildren.net.au/toddlers/safety/choking-strangulation/choking-prevention
Food-related choking in young children. Ministry of Health New Zealand. https://www.health.govt.nz/your-health/healthy-living/food-activity-and-sleep/healthy-eating/food-related-choking-young-children
National Health and Medical Research Council (2012) Infant Feeding Guidelines. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council.
The materials published on this website are of a general nature and have been provided for informational purposes only. Always consult your medical practitioner or a qualified health provider for any further advice in relation to the topics discussed.