I’m at “that age,” all my friends have children or are having children. We are all in the same parenting boat, but I have observed , we are all strong in different areas of parenting. Fortunately, for me, because of my professional background, my strength is feeding children. As my friends will tell you, I almost never give my advice unless asked for it in regards to nutrition or feeding children. Recently though, I have found myself on more than one occasion giving my friends “the talk.” The talk about advancing their children’s food textures beyond puree and mashed food. In each of the conversations it goes something like this, “Really, you think they are ready, I’m just so afraid of them choking.” “They seem to gag and it makes me so nervous.”
So, here is my talk to all of you who have older infants stuck on pureed or mashed food.
Choking and Gagging are two different things. Infants have a VERY sensitive gag reflex. The strong gag reflex is actually a safety mechanism designed by the body to prevent infants from choking believe it or not. Since infants are not good at knowing how much to put in their mouth, the strong reflex is designed to alert them when they have exceeded their mouths capacity. For some children, gagging can start once the food hits the middle of the tongue, for others, not until it gets to the back of the throat.
How you respond to this gagging behavior will have a huge impact on how well feeding can go for most infants. When starting them on table foods follow these steps:
1. Sit them in a high chair or booster seat
2. Place the chopped food on the tray, plate, or table
3. Allow them to pick up the food for themselves and self feed
4. Allow them to eat without reacting, even if it means they gag a little bit. Give them a few moments to work it out for themselves…they usually do. (If every time they gag, you jump to their rescue it can scare them while eating or delay their self learning). Imagine if someone always had their finger in your mouth?
5. Sit and eat your meals while your infant eats. NEVER leave an infant in the high chair while eating unattended…just in case an intervention becomes necessary.
Believe me, I am not down playing the fear of choking. I know the idea of your child choking can be scary, but that is why family meals are so important (you will be right there if they actually do need you). I couldn’t wait to give up the spoon feeding because I could go back to enjoying my meal while she enjoyed hers.
What has your experience been with feeding table foods? Did you fear your child choking?