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No increased choking risk found in babies allowed to self-feed solid foods

More than 1,000 mothers took part in the research

Allowing babies to feed themselves solid foods rather than spoon-feeding them does not increase the risk of choking, research has found.

A study by Swansea University found no difference in how often babies choked when they fed themselves from as young as six months old.

More than 1,000 mothers with a baby aged between four and 12 months took part in the research.

They reported how they gave their baby solid foods, what foods they gave them and whether their baby had ever choked.

Overall, there was no difference in how often a baby choked among babies that fed themselves, fed themselves and were spoon-fed, or were mainly spoon-fed.

Dr Amy Brown, associate professor in Child Health at Swansea University, 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 10 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."

In 2002, it was recommended that babies were not given solid foods until the age of six months, though some mothers still introduce them earlier.

The recommendation followed research that showed waiting could reduce the risk of certain illnesses, such as gastroenteritis.

Babies are also not developmentally ready to sit up and swallow food until around the age of six months.

At this age, babies can pick up foods, put them in their mouths and chew - removing the need for spoon-feeding soft foods.

Milk should form the major part of a baby's diet as they get used to tastes and textures, with just 250 calories per day needed from food until they are nine months old.

The research suggests that baby-led weaning does not pose a choking risk, as long as foods known to be a risk are avoided.

Babies are skilled at eating a wide variety of foods and can chew well without teeth.

However, the researchers say that parents should consider what food they are giving - as well as shape and size - and speak to their health visitor if in doubt.

Children should not have whole nuts until the age of five and babies should not be given hard foods that can snap into small pieces in their mouth, such as raw apple slices or carrot chunks.

Babies should also not be given gelatinous foods such as pieces of sausage, raw jelly cubes or sticky sweets.

A spokeswoman from Swansea University added: "The new study shows that there was a small increased risk of choking with very sticky foods such as thick chunks of bread that might get stuck, at least temporarily in the throat, or 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.

"There was also a small increased risk when spoon-feeding very dry, lumpy purees that if given in too big a spoonful might get stuck in a baby's throat. Smaller, softer versions of these foods should not pose a problem.

"Regardless of their method of weaning, a caregiver should always stay with their baby throughout a meal."

The research, published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, involved 1,151 mothers.

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