Safety: Creating a Safe Eating Environment for Baby

There are a number of things you can do to create a safe and positive space for eating. It’s important that you create a peaceful eating environment free from sudden noises or distractions and educate yourself on common choking hazards. If you’ve never taken a first-aid training course, now is a good time. Lastly, never, ever leave your baby unattended while eating and stay within an arm’s reach at all times.

Placement & High Chairs

The safest place for your baby to eat—whether you are spoon-feeding or doing finger foods—is a high chair that has a totally upright seat and adjustable foot plate that enable your baby’s knees to be at a 90 degree angle. Ideally your baby’s high chair also has a removable tray so it can be brought right up to the dinner table where you can model eating and baby can be part of the family meal.

Do not feed your child in the car or stroller. Do not allow your child to walk around and eat. And never feed your baby in a baby bouncer, car seat, or other reclined infant seat. And always watch your child when they are eating. For a comprehensive summary of guidelines to prevent choking injuries or death, see the NY State Dept of Health website: Choking Prevention for Children.

Gagging & Choking

First, it is important to distinguish the difference between gagging and choking. True choking is when the airway is obstructed and your baby is having trouble breathing. Signs of a baby choking include an inability to cry (silence), difficulty breathing, skin tugging into the chest, a look of terror, high-pitched sounds, or turning blue.

If you suspect your baby is choking, immediately administer infant choking first aid with alternating back blows and chest thrusts and call 911 on speakerphone so your hands are free. If another person is present, one person should immediately perform choking first aid while the other calls 911. Conduct age-appropriate CPR if you believe your baby’s airway is open but not breathing.

Gagging, however, is a protective reflex that results in the contraction of the back of the throat. It is a natural function and protects us from choking. When this happens, it’s important to let your baby work the food forward on their own and to refrain from sticking your finger in your baby’s mouth, which can push the object further down your baby’s throat, making the situation worse. 

An easy way to remember the difference between choking and gagging is the saying, “Loud and red, let them go ahead. Silent and blue, they need help from you!”

baby gags on solid food
Adie, 12 months old, gags on bread

Interestingly, the gag reflex of a 6 to 10 month old baby is much further forward on tongue than that of an adult.1 Because it is so far forward on the tongue, a baby’s gag reflex is triggered easily. It is not uncommon for babies to gag (or occasionally vomit) for the first few weeks of solids, though if your baby is repeatedly gagging and vomiting past the first month of starting solids, it would be wise to consult your pediatrician who may refer you to an occupational feeding therapist.

All babies gag in their eating journey—it’s one of the ways they learn how to eat. The good news is that your baby should outgrow gagging after a couple of months of practice with a variety of textured foods.

For more information on how to minimize the risk of choking when introducing solids, make sure you familiarize yourself with the list of common choking hazards in this section and recommended food sizes and shapes for the age of your baby, which you can look up in our food library.

Infant CPR & First Aid Resources

One of the most important things you can do to protect your baby is to take a CPR class online or at your local health facility and review safety procedures. Some resources:

Safe Food Preparation for Babies

Babies have immature immune systems and organs. This is why, for example, you must cook meat well done, refrain from offering raw fish, and ensure your baby is not getting too much sodium, which can be lethal in certain amounts. When preparing food for your baby, make sure you:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before, during, and after cooking
  • Wash cutting boards, knives, counters, and hands after handling raw meat or fish
  • Wash fruits and veggies well—before you cut them. Including avocados and melons
  • Defrost food in your refrigerator (not on the counter or at room temperature)
  • Cook food thoroughly. Meat and fish should be well done, eggs firm and not runny
  • Cut round foods (grapes, blueberries, cherry tomatoes, etc.) into vertical quarters
  • Avoid adding salt to your baby’s food
  • When buying canned foods, opt for no sodium added or low-sodium brands
  • Avoid offering your baby juice or any food or beverages with added sugar
  • Never add honey to your baby’s food. Honey can cause infant botulism, a serious disease that can cause muscle weakness and paralysis, when given to children less than 12 months of age2
  • Avoid offering unpasteurized milk and milk products as these can cause serious bacterial infections.3

Oversight

The single most important thing you can do to keep your baby safe while eating is to be within an arm’s reach. That one solo trip to the bathroom might just be the moment your baby figures out how to maneuver out of her safety harness. (True story.)

  1. Rapley & Murkett, Baby-Led Weaning, p. 46 (2010).
  2. Healthy Children, Botulism. (website). Retrieved January 6, 2020.
  3. Consumption of Raw or Unpasteurized Milk and Milk Products by Pregnant Women and Children. Pediatrics, Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.(website). Retrieved January 6, 2020.