Before your baby even starts on solids, you will find that she loves putting things to her mouth - usually toys and her fingers. As soon as she starts with weaning, she will probably be interested to self-feed and put food in her mouth. This stage of feeding can provoke intense anxiety as you worry about her choking.
Firstly, it is important to know the difference between gagging and choking. Gagging is a reflex that is stimulated when something new or lumpy or too big touches our soft palate. In little ones the gag reflex is quite sensitive as a protective mechanism. However, gagging in and of itself is not dangerous. So, when your baby gags, you should ignore it and continue with the feeding.
Choking on the other hand, involves food stuck in the windpipe and it is dangerous. Your baby will look very different to gagging and may be silent with no coughing. In this case, you do need to remove the object from the windpipe as soon as possible using a variety of methods that should be learnt on a first aid course.
Neither gagging nor the risk of choking should prevent you from allowing your little one to experiment with finger foods. Kath Megaw (dietician) advises that ‘practice makes perfect’ so don’t be scared of textures and remember to read your baby’s cues and follow your mom-instinct. These are her age-related guidelines for introducing more texture to ensure that you are prepared-ish for finger foods:
- In the first month of weaning, offer purée, mashed, or finger mashed foods. Do not offer hard pieces or mixed textures. Optimal foods at this stage include purée veggies, mashed banana and squished butternut.
- In the second weaning month or between 6 to 7 months of age, you can introduce ‘bite and dissolve’ textures like baby rusks and maize crackers. Mashed vegetables can have some soft solid lumps now.
- From 7 to 9 months offer firm textures like toast fingers, rice cakes and whole pieces of soft fruit like banana, avocado or strawberries; cooked soft veggies like butternut, sweet potato and pumpkin chunks.
- Between 9 and 12 months your baby will manage firm and degradable textures like meatballs and fritters. These are great practice for future whole proteins.
Embrace this journey and always remember that your little one gets her cue from you – if you look fearful as she explores textures and even gags, she will become anxious about foods too.