Choking

It’s normal for babies to gag and cough when eating, especially when you first introduce them to lumpy textures. The gag reflex helps to prevent babies from choking by helping them to move food from the back of their mouth to the front. It is more sensitive when your baby is experiencing lumpy textures for the first time. Learning to move food around the mouth this way is how your baby learns to chew and swallow food safely.

If your baby does cough or gag when eating, it’s important that you stay calm and reassure them. More often than not, your baby will carry on eating, but if they become upset don’t force them to carry on and simply try again at the next mealtime.

Remember, your baby should never be left alone at mealtimes – make sure you always supervise them. It’s also important to ensure your baby is sitting safely and strapped in. Having baby in a sitting and upright position helps them to swallow comfortably and spit the food out readily if they need to.

Choking, however, can be a cause of injury in young children, mainly because their small airways are more easily obstructed.

Tips to reduce the risk of choking:

  • remove any stones and pips from fruit before serving
  • cut small round foods, like grapes, strawberries and cherry tomatoes, lengthways and into quarters
  • cut large fruits like melon, and hard fruit or vegetables like raw apple and carrot into slices instead of small chunks
  • do not offer raisins as a snack to children under 12 months – although these can be chopped up as part of a meal
  • soften hard fruit and vegetables (such as carrot and apple) and remove the skins when first given to babies from around 6 months
  • sausages should be avoided due to their high salt content, but if offered to children these should be cut into thin strips rather than chunks and remove the skins
  • remove bones from meat or fish
  • do not give whole nuts to children under five years old
  • do not give whole seeds to children under five years old
  • cut cheese into strips rather than chunks
  • do not give popcorn as a snack
  • do not give children marshmallows or jelly cubes from a packet either to eat or as part of messy play activities as they can get stuck in the throat
  • do not give children hard sweets.

Remember

  • Infants and young children should be seated safely in a highchair or appropriately sized low chair while eating.
  • They should never be left alone while they are eating, and staff should be familiar with paediatric first aid advice for children who are choking.

Finger Foods

Finger foods should be easy for babies to grip, so a good guide is to make them about the size of an adult index finger, in a stick or chip like shape. To begin with, finger foods should be soft, so it’s a good idea to check they’re “squishable” between your thumb and forefinger Take a look at the images below for examples of suitable and unsuitable ways to serve finger foods

You can also view our video which explores information and guidance on preparing and serving food to reduce the risk of choking.

To see videos and get advice on how to cope with a choking baby, go to:

Red Cross or see NHS 

You can also download the following tip sheets: