Does Baby-Led Weaning Increase Your Child’s Chance of Choking?

It often seems like every parenting topic is controversial with firm and vocal supporters on either side and when and how to introduce solids is no exception. The traditional advice was to start an iron-fortified rice cereal around four months old and then continue on with pureed foods, starting with vegetables and moving on to fruits one at a time. However, many modern parents are balking at this advice. Instead, parents are choosing to let their children decide when to eat solids and letting them feed themselves straight from the family table — a practice called baby-led weaning (BLW).

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Image via Flickr/ Kate Dreyer

What is BLW?

BLW (baby-led weaning) is the idea and practice of letting your child decide when he is ready to eat solid foods. A common phrase you'll hear is “under one, just for fun,” which means that eating solid food isn't a nutritional priority for babies less than one-year-old. Before that, experimenting with solid foods should be done only to introduce the child to new experiences, textures, and flavors. Parents who practice BLW usually wait to introduce their babies to solid foods until they show distinct signs of readiness, such as the child grabbing at food a parent is eating and trying to put it in his mouth. BLW practicers also skip foods like purees and rice cereal and go straight to small, easily swallowed pieces of regular table foods. 

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What does the new study say?

Experts have long been undecided about whether the pros of BLW — including saving time, introducing children to different textures, and reducing the chances of having a picky eater — outweigh the perceived additional choking risks. A New Zealand study, published in Pediatrics in 2016, decided to take a closer look. The study included 206 mother/baby pairs, with the babies ranging in age from six to eight months old. 

One group of mothers was told to introduce solids according to traditional advice. The other was given information on how to let the children feed themselves safely. The study found that although 35 percent of parents reported the babies choked at least once, there was no statistically significant difference in the choking rates for the two groups. However, researchers found that parents in both groups were feeding the children foods that carry a higher choking risk, such as raw veggies and hard crackers. They advised that all foods should be soft and easily gummed.

Bottom line: Practicing baby-led weaning doesn't increase your baby's risk of choking, as long as he meets the requirements. As long as your baby is at least six months old and can sit up unassisted and the food can be easily squished on the roof of the mouth, BLW could be for you.

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Does Baby-Led Weaning Increase Your Child’s Chance of Choking?

Katelynne has been trying to get the hang of this raising kids thing since 2007 but spends most of her time wondering who stole her copy of Parenting 101. When she’s not playing referee for her two children or writing all the words, she fantasizes about a full night’s sleep, uninterrupted showers, and triple venti caramel macchiatos with coconut milk. ... More

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