Baby-Led Weaning Does Not Increase Choking Risk: Here’s What You Need To Know

Baby-led weaning – allowing little ones to feed themselves rather than you feeding them – doesn’t increase the risk of choking, a study has found.

More than 1,000 babies were involved in a study by Swansea University that revealed letting them feed themselves from six months old made “no difference” to how often they choked.

Dr Amy Brown, associate professor in child health at Swansea University, said: “This study adds to previous research conducted in smaller sample groups that also showed this approach does not increase the risk of a baby choking, and indeed in the UK, supports the Department of Health recommendation that babies can have finger foods from six months old.”

Dr Brown, author of ‘Why Starting Solids Matter’, said the baby-led weaning approach has been growing in popularity over the last 10 years in the UK and other countries, although some people have previously “expressed concerns” over whether it is safe. 

The study involved questionnaire open to anyone with a baby aged four to 12 months who had started solid foods. Parents indicated how they were currently giving their baby solids e.g. baby-led weaning, spoon feeding or in the middle. 

Parents were were given a definition about what choking was (as opposed to gagging) and asked whether their baby had ever choked, how many times they had choked and on what foods. They also reported whether the food was a finger food, lumpy puree or smooth puree and then also what the food was.

The study found that those babies who fed themselves were not more likely to choke than the babies who were spoon fed. The foods that were commonly choked on included slippery, sticky foods or those with a skin.

“These foods make intuitive sense to avoid in the first stages of weaning or to give in a less risky form,” Dr Brown told HuffPost UK.

“For example, giving an infant a thin slice of melon that they can suck or chew is likely to be less of a hazard than giving melon chunks, which could slip out of a hand and get stuck in the throat.

“Banana and avocado were also mentioned, although these are less likely to cause such a problem as they can be squashed and removed from an airway more easily. However, again, giving a whole banana may be more appropriate than giving chopped chunks that can block an airway.

“Interestingly, drier and stickier foods also posed a problem, likely because they may stick in the throat. However these findings need to be taken with caution because it was unknown how often these foods were offered.” 

Think about introducing solid foods as about experience rather than getting lots of food into your baby.”Dr Amy Brown, associate professor in child health at Swansea University

Speaking to HuffPost UK about what advice she’d give to parents who were yet to start baby-led weaning, Brown said: “I would advise them to think about introducing solid foods as about experience rather than getting lots of food into their baby.

“Offer babies foods that they can pick up easily and focus on offering lots of different tastes and textures rather than one or two things. Milk should still be the main part of the diet until twelve months.

“If you’re going to give your baby finger foods, make sure you let them pick it up and put it in their mouths themselves. Don’t put solid pieces in their mouth for them. Let them go at their own pace and don’t rush them.

“Also try not to worry too much about the mess, it’s all part of the learning experience and playing with food is an important part of learning, both in terms of what food feels and tastes like but also in helping develop fine motor skills such as picking things up and squashing them. Messy but educational!”

Previously blogging on HuffPost UK, Dr Brown talked about further benefits of baby-led weaning. 

“Mealtimes can be different when you have a baby who is following baby-led weaning,” she wrote.

“They’re more likely to join in family meals rather than being fed separately, which helps babies to learn about mealtimes and coming together.

“It also means the pressure is off and they can eat at a more leisurely pace, copying those around them.

“When a baby picks up a food they don’t just learn what it tastes like but what it feels like, how it smells and what happens if they squish or break it. It’s likely this makes them keener to try it again.”

The NHS advises parents to feed babies milk until six months, before allowing them to feed themselves solids, using their fingers.