Babies

How to Prevent Choking During Baby-Led Weaning

In my years of teaching classes on introducing solids with baby-led weaning I always go around the room and ask everyone to introduce themselves and to share what their biggest concern they’re hoping to learn about. Number one worry, far and away, is a fear of choking.

It just seems scary to give a tiny baby actual pieces of food, doesn’t it? Possibly even dangerous! So why choose baby-led weaning to start if they could choke?

How to Avoid Choking During Baby Led Weaning


As I cover in my class, there are a few parts to this concern.

First is the difference between gagging and choking. Gagging is a natural reflex that actually prevents choking because babies are designed to survive even first-time parents. Choking is the obstruction of the airway by (in this case) a piece of food. Gagging is scary, but not dangerous; choking is to be avoided if possible.

If you haven’t taken an infant CPR class, you may feel better taking one now. You can also do a little YouTube self-study which is better than nothing. I cover this more in my introducing solids course, but choking is silent while gagging is not. My mantra is, “If they’re coughing, they’re breathing.”

Is There an Increased Risk of Choking with Baby-Led Weaning?

A 2016 study in New Zealand followed over 200 babies as they started solids and found that 35% of the babies in the whole study had a choking incident during the period they observed. The percentage was across groups who started with purees or finger foods, because the issue was that a high percentage of the babies were offered foods that were choking hazards.

The best ways to prevent choking during baby-led weaning are:

  • wait until baby is physically ready to start solids, and
  • offer foods that are developmentally appropriate for your child

Babies can’t read calendars, so it’s important to watch their motor development to ensure they’re able to eat food and maintain their posture to prevent choking during baby-led weaning.

Signs of readiness include: baby can sit well without support, baby has lost their tongue thrust reflex, baby is bringing items to their mouth, baby is starting to develop a pincer grasp, and baby is eager to participate in meals.

As I mentioned, not feeding your baby choking hazards significantly reduces the risks! In the study I mentioned above, over a third of the choking incidents reported were due to raw apples. Learn from those parents’ mistakes!

Choking hazards during baby-led weaning include: raw apples, raw vegetables, unripe/hard fruit, citrus segments, whole nuts, popcorn, whole grapes, cherry tomatoes, hot dogs/sausages, food cut into coins, hard crackers/chips, hard/chewy candy

For more in-depth information, my Introducing Solids class covers the when, why, and how of starting foods with your baby, including breastfeeding and allergens.

Hundreds of parents have felt more confident and informed while approaching solid foods with their babies. You can, too!

Why We Chose Baby Led Weaning

Why We Chose Baby Led Weaning

How is your relationship with food? Do you get enough veggies? Do you stress eat? Are you a sugar addict?

This isn't to judge you - most of us struggle with food in some way or another. I'm not immune, either, I just have more tools than the average person.

After working with health coaching clients who still struggle after twenty or thirty years, when it came time to feed my son solids, I wanted to do it "right." Time for some research.

When most of us picture introducing solids, I'd imagine this is the image that comes to mind:

Eat What For Thanksgiving?

Most parents start their babies on solids waaaaaaaaaaay too early

Most pediatricians recommend introducing solids around 4 to 6 months. The American Association of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend exclusively formula or breastmilk until 6 months.

A 2013 study from the AAP showed that in a sample of over 1300 people, "40.4% of mothers introduced solid foods before age 4 months. The most commonly cited reasons for early introduction of solid food were as follows: “My baby was old enough,” “My baby seemed hungry,” “I wanted to feed my baby something in addition to breast milk or formula,” “My baby wanted the food I ate,” “A doctor or other health care professional said my baby should begin eating solid food,” and “It would help my baby sleep longer at night.”"

I started my son a little after 6 months (he had a cold so we waited until he wasn't congested). In retrospect I would have waited even longer. He was sitting up decently but didn't have a developed pincer grasp (ability to hold something between two fingertips). I was planning to offer a mix of purees and finger foods, but he threw up applesauce and I got tired of cleaning it up.

So we went with straight Baby Led Weaning (BLW). And I'm so glad we did.

Why Baby Led Weaning Was Best For Us

Stealing Mimi's apple at 8.5 months old
The "weaning" here is the British term. Americans tend to think of weaning for babies as "stopping breastmilk consumption" as opposed to "gradually reducing breastmilk consumption by introducing solids." So if you prefer the term "baby led solids," go for it.

Our decision came down to a few things:

    • I'm lazy. I was skeptical of commercial baby food but didn't really want to make my own. BLW meant we could offer the same (or very similar) foods to what we ate.
    • I have strong feelings about bodily autonomy for kids (and everyone), so giving my son control over how and what he ate held a lot of appeal.
    • In my coaching practice I've spent a lot of time helping clients re-learn how to listen to their own bodies, so it made sense to me to let my son tune into his own hunger signals instead of me trying to guess.
    • A major reason to start with purees is because babies push food out due to their tongue thrust reflex - their natural protection against choking. If you wait until their tongue thrust reflex is gone (a sign that they're developmentally ready to eat solid food), they can simply eat table food.
    • When you start with purees, babies learn to swallow first, then chew. With BLW they chew first, then learn to swallow. They'll eventually get chunky or finger foods, so why not just start there?

Now at 3 years old, my son eats a wide variety of foods. He loves fish, mushrooms, and seaweed just as much as macaroni and cheese. He eats chlorella tablets like they're candy. He also eats candy, but asks for a few pieces and then moves on.

Is it because of his personality, or because of how we introduced and offered food from the start? I don't know for sure, but there isn't much I'll change this fall when it comes time to start our second baby on solid food.

Want to know more?

If you're near San Diego with a baby around 3-9 months, I would love to see you at one of my monthly in-person classes in Hillcrest.

Doesn't work with your schedule or live too far away? Now you can now take the class anytime from anywhere!

The online version of Introducing Solids with Baby Led Weaning is ready to go. Just CLICK HERE for more information.

I would love to support you.

7 Reasons You Should Have a Doula

7 Reasons to Have a Doula

dou·la
/ˈdo͞olə/

noun: doula, plural noun: doulas

1. a woman who is trained to assist another woman during childbirth and who may provide support to the family after the baby is born

I've only had 3 major fights with my husband in over a decade spent together. One was about artichokes. Another was about fabric scissors. The third was an actual shouting match - 5 years before I was even pregnant - while walking down the street in downtown Minneapolis about doulas.

"I don't like doulas," my husband sniffed.
"What? Why? What do you even know about doulas?"
"What do they even DO? I think they're annoying. Why would you need one? Isn't that what the doctor is for?"
"YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT."

Fast forward to 2013.

"Honey," my husband chirped, "my co-worker's wife is pregnant! I asked if they had interviewed doulas yet. He had never even heard of them, so I told him they have to have one."

Doula literally comes from the Greek term for "woman servant," and a doula serves as support for you (AND your partner) during pregnancy, labor, and the postpartum period.

Why would you want a doula?

The presence of a doula has been shown to reduce labor times and improve birth outcomes for both mother and baby. My favorite statistic is that even a doula simply sitting in a chair in the room without actively doing anything else has improved outcomes! Amazing.

The real question is why wouldn't you have one?

A big factor for us was that we didn't know which midwife or OB would be at our son's birth. Knowing my personality and my desire for an unmedicated birth, I knew that having someone I trusted and felt comfortable with would be key for me to relax. We had also never experienced birth before and wanted someone on our team, not the hospital's, to help guide us through it.

7 Reasons You DO Want a Doula

What does a doula do (and not do)?

A doula does NOT advocate or speak for you. She is there to support you. Some doulas are massage therapists and may offer bodywork, give counterpressure during contractions, offer aromatherapy options and other comfort measures. Our doula was instrumental in guiding us through early labor and helping us decide when to leave for the hospital. What was most valuable for us as first time parents was her experience of witnessing birth to let us know what was normal.

I still say she was 80% for my husband and 20% for me.

A doula does not speak on your behalf. She may say something like, "You said you didn't want an epidural. The nurse is offering one. Do you want to try to get through a few more contractions before you decide?" Or she may say, "You said you didn't want an epidural, but it's been a long time and you seem really tired. Do you want to discuss your options?"

Where do you find a doula?

A trusted friend or family member can be a doula, but it should be someone you're comfortable with since they'll be present when you're in a vulnerable state during labor.

DONA is the group that certifies trained doulas, and you can search for a local match who is available around your due date at DoulaMatch.net. It doesn't make them a better choice necessarily, it just verifies that they have training and some experience.

How do you pick?

We found a list of local doulas, visited their websites, contacted several to make sure they were available, and interviewed 3 doulas. We really liked them all, but we chose the one who provided what we felt was the personality we needed in the delivery room. I'm very organized and responsible, so I wanted someone with a softer presence.

Many cities have doula meet-and-greet events so you can mix and mingle with a group of doulas and decide who you might want to interview. Then of course their schedule and pricing needs to be a good fit.

People are sometimes surprised at the cost of doula support, but they can only take so many clients due to the unpredictability of birth. Most also offer prenatal and postpartum support, may have additional lactation training, and probably need childcare for their own kids for the potentially long-haul of your labor.

Some may work on a sliding scale, offer payment plans or trades, or there may be student doulas in your area with less experience and a lower cost. Several we met offer discounts for homebirths since they're not always covered by insurance. The earlier you make a decision, the earlier you can budget for it.

When my husband and I started talking about trying for another baby, one of his first questions was, "Do we just have the same doula again? Is that a thing?"

But do I NEED a doula?

Of course not. And some women prefer their mother, sister, or friend to act in a similar capacity.

But if you have the option, I can't think of a reason NOT to have that additional help.

Did you have a doula at your birth?

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Let's be honest - you'll forget to check back. Because mom brain is real.

The Biggest Secret of Parenting

Before my son was born I read a lot more about birth than parenting. Considering that information only covered about 12 hours from my first contraction, I had a lot of catch up to do once he arrived.

And wow, the learning curve felt steep. When he was around 10 months old I finally read this article about features of a high needs baby. My son met 11 of the 12 criteria.

I just thought all babies were like that because he was the only one I had.

Other moms' mentioned their high-needs babies and I thought about how terrible that sounded - my son wouldn't sleep longer than 37 minutes, had to be constantly held, and went from 0-to-hysterical in 3 seconds flat. And they had it worse?

Apparently not. Whew.

(Looking back I have no idea how I survived those first two years with my sanity relatively intact, though that's up for debate.)

Entering my third trimester of pregnancy with my second child I vacillate between peace and panic. On one hand, at least I have some idea of what to expect.

On the other hand, I have some idea of what to expect -- plus a 3-year-old. Hold me.

Parenting Secret: None of us have ANY IDEA what we are doing

With my first I felt intense pressure to "do it right." I wanted to read all the books and articles and expert opinions.

Then I learned that anyone who tells you there is one way to do anything is selling you their book.

Do I give weight in to experienced professionals say and what studies can show us? Yes. But the most important thing is doing what works for me and my family. I am the expert at my children.

So I'll stock up on strategies for smooth transitions for siblings, but this time I will have fewer expectations of myself. Because I don't know much about THIS baby yet.

In a class with Pam England (author of Birthing From Within) she explained her philosophy of "B+ Parenting."

She said that none of us can ever be a perfect parent. When we think we can, we set ourselves up for failure. Instead, she says, aim to be a B+ parent. Better than average, but without the pressure of never screwing anything up.

We will inevitably screw up.

That's what parenting is about. It's picking our battles and trying not to screw up too bad while loving the crap out of these little imperfect humans. We're learning along with them.

You're doing the best you can with what you have available at the moment. That's enough.

You're enough.


Not feeling like it lately? Motherhood can be an overwhelming hamster wheel of laundry and trying to remember what else you need to do.

If you're feeling stuck and don't even know where to start, you're not alone. If you need a hand to make the leap, I'd love to offer mine.

CLICK HERE to book a FREE Save Your Sanity Session

Want to stay in the loop?

Let's be honest - you'll forget to check back. Because mom brain is real.