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Letting babies self-wean and feed themselves solid foods, rather than be spoon-fed by an adult, does not increase their risk of choking, according to a new study.
The research from Swansea University found there was no difference in how often a baby choked, according to whether they fed themselves, had a mixture of spoon-feeding and finger foods, or if they were mainly spoon fed.
Self-weaning is where the baby eats the same food as the rest of the family and the food is not mashed up or pureed. The baby feeds by picking up the food with their hands rather than being spoon fed.
Dr Amy Brown, associate professor in Child Public Health, and maternal and infant health researcher spoke to 1,151 mothers with a baby aged four to 12 months.
She said: “Following a baby-led weaning approach where you allow your baby to simply self-feed family foods, rather than preparing special pureed or mashed foods to spoon feed, has been growing in popularity over the last ten years in the UK and other countries. However some people have expressed concerns over whether this is safe, and might put babies at risk of choking.
“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.”
Babies used to be introduced to solid foods when they were much younger – at three months and then four months, but in 2002 changes were made to recommend solids were not given until the baby was six-months-old. This was due to research showing waiting can reduce the risk of babies having certain illnesses, such as gastroenteritis.
At six months babies can sit up, pick up foods and put them in their mouths and chew, which removes the need for the spoon-feeding of soft foods. Some people worry that a baby feeding themselves might not be very skilled at doing so and as a result may not eat very much, but at six months milk should still form the major part of their diet as they get used to tastes and textures. The amount of energy needed from food is relatively small: around 250 calories a day until they are nine months old, according to Dr Brown.
Swansea University says there is no ‘right’ way to introduce a baby to solid foods – the most important thing is you let your baby go at their own pace and provide them with lots of different tastes and textures to experiment with.
It advises parents and nursery practitioners to not give children:
• Whole nuts (until five years old)
• Very hard foods that can snap into small bits in their mouth, such as raw apple slices and chunks of carrot
• Gelatinous foods like pieces of sausage, raw jelly cubes or sticky sweets
• Sticky foods that might get stuck, at least temporarily in the throat, such as thick chunks of bread
• Large chunks of very slippery foods which might accidentally slip in a baby’s grasp and be swallowed whole, such as large hard chunks of melon and avocado, or very ripe banana
• Very dry, lumpy purees that if given in too big a spoonful might get stuck in a baby’s throat. Most importantly, regardless of their method of weaning a caregiver should always stay with their baby throughout a meal.
Some parents say that by self-weaning, their baby eats a wider variety of foods from an earlier age and enjoys their food more because they are more in control of eating.
The study titled ‘No difference in self-reported frequency of choking between infants introduced to solid foods using a baby-led weaning or traditional spoon-feeding approach’ is published by the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics (JHND).
To view the research click here