Before my son was born, I’d decided I’d make my own purees instead of buying baby food, but when he was around 3 months old, my cousin opened the door to a thing called Baby Led Weaning.
In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, (or, like my husband, have been hearing “Baby Linguine”, and wonder why you’d only feed your baby pasta…) Baby Led Weaning simply means allowing your baby to feed themselves solid food as soon as they begin to wean, as opposed to spoon-feeding them. Instead of using pureed “baby food”, your little one will start on finger foods they grasp themselves.
After reading a few articles about the concept, and basic how-to’s, I couldn’t wait for O to try his first food. As expected, it was pretty uneventful. He pushed around the piece of avocado in front of him, got a little in his mouth, and soon lost interest.
I made sweet potato fries the following day and that got his attention. This time, when he got enough in his mouth, he gagged a little, causing his eyes to water and my heart to race.
I did not anticipate this reaction at all. I was game, I was ready, I was excited, and now, I was terrified.
I offered food that night, but didn’t look forward to it like I had been before. I found I wanted my husband in the room when I fed him for moral support. When O gagged, I felt super anxious and just wanted it to be over.
This was not how I wanted to start our relationship with food. I love cooking for my family, and the last thing I wanted was for him to sense my anxiety around it.
My reaction was to scrap the BLW and start puréeing his food. But, if that’s how I approach everything that makes me uncomfortable, neither of us will grow. Even though I felt a nervous wreck, I knew I had to get over my fear.
Here is what helped:
I took a CPR class
As a fitness trainer, I was certified 2 years prior, but I wanted a refresher, especially on how to do CPR on an infant. Being able to practice with a certified instructor present is well worth your time. I felt confident that I was performing everything correctly and got instant feedback from a professional.
Check out the Red Cross website to find a class near you, or, ask your pediatrician if they offer classes. Many do for free, and if yours does not, they will point you in the right direction.
I watched how-to videos
It’s easy to feel you’ve forgotten everything from the CPR class after a few weeks. I regularly watched videos on YouTube that showed how to save a choking child to engrain it in my brain. Here is an example, but searching for “CPR for choking infant” will bring up a lot more.
I also suggest downloading the Resuscitate! App which has quick videos in an easy to navigate platform.
I watched videos of babies gagging
This isn’t an emotionally easy one to do, but I honestly recommend it. Watching your baby gag is awful. But – as I reminded myself many times – gagging is good.
The gag reflex is what prevents choking. Your baby will undoubtedly gag, so getting super familiar with what that can look and sound like, helps normalize it and make it not as frightening. Head to YouTube for gagging baby videos, here is a great example.
I educated myself on choking hazards
Just like taking a CPR class, education is empowering. Reading about choking hazards and how to cut foods appropriately for your baby’s age will ensure you’re reducing the risk of choking to begin with.
By the way, here is a list of hazardous foods from UnityPoint.org:
- Hot dogs. This cookout staple is a choking hazard due to the tube shape and compressibility. If you do choose to give hot dogs to children, it is safest to cut them lengthwise and in small pieces.
- Larger chunks of meat/cheese. Make sure meats and cheese are cut into small, manageable bites for babies and toddlers. Dr. Sandberg recommends avoiding cutting food into strips because children can easily bite off a piece, which is too large for them to handle.
- Whole grapes. This fruit is fine for babies, as long as it is prepared correctly. Grapes should be cut lengthwise and quartered for all young children. Grape skin can lead to choking when it separates from the grape. For babies, it is best to use cup up grapes without skin.
- Hard candies. Many candies, including hard candies, can cause issues because they may be the size of the airway.
- Taffy. This sweet treat is dangerous because it can mold and conform to block a child’s airway.
- Gum. Just like taffy, gum can mold just right to block a child’s airway, making it a significant choking hazard.
- Nuts & seeds. While healthy, these items are a choking hazard for young children largely due to children’s inability to grind food. Remember, children under four may not have all their childhood molars and are still learning this skill.
- Popcorn. Again, this is a risk due to a young child’s inability to chew well. If you’re wondering when babies can eat popcorn, it’s best to hold off until around the age of four.
- Peanut butter. Globs of peanut butter can be a choking hazard in the same way as gum, taffy and hard candies. It can conform to a child’s airway.
- Raw vegetables. When a whole vegetable is given, it is easy for a piece to break off, perhaps cut by the child’s incisors (front teeth). That’s when the large pieces of hard vegetables become a choking hazard.
There are also infographics showing how to cut food that I found very helpful, like this one from Jenna Helwig:
I joined a Facebook Group:
I rarely participated in Facebook Groups until I became a mom. Reading books and articles about things like sleep training and Baby Led Weaning offer the “in theory” advice and stories. However, what helped me feel connected, and not so crazy, was communicating with other moms doing the same thing.
Hearing from other moms who were just as nervous, and how they dealt, boosted my confidence and helped me feel not so alone with my big emotions. These two groups helped me tremendously: Baby Led Weaning for Beginners and Baby Led Weaning for Beginners and Beyond (BLWBB).
. . . . .
The thought of my child choking is petrifying. But avoiding solid foods is clearly not the answer. Cut to me sending him to college with puréed carrots…
In the end, Baby Led Weaning ended up being great for us. It was certainly easier than making my own baby food, and way less expensive! O enjoys breakfast the most, and getting to cook him things that he loves is incredibly satisfying.
The gagging phase is hard, but it drastically lessens the more you try. Arm yourself with information and trust yourself and your baby. Bon Appetit!
Samantha is a preconception through postnatal health coach living in Asheville with her husband, toddler, and dog. She supports new moms and moms-to-be in finding practical ways to live a healthier more balanced life!