Your Baby's 'Finger Food' Might Actually Be a Choking Hazard: What You Need to Know

finger foodsIf you've been reaching for boxes marked "first finger foods" for your baby, thinking they're safe for novice chewers, you might want to think twice: A new study shows that many products claiming to be non-choking hazards don't meet the American Academy of Pediatrics's (AAP) guidelines for safe snacks.

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According to AAP recommendations, parents should start finger foods when babies can "sit up without support and bring their hands or other objects to their mouth," and those first foods should be "soft, easy-to-swallow, and cut into small pieces." But when researchers tested out nine products labeled as "first finger foods" designated for "crawlers" as part of the "Chew on This: Not All Products Labeled First Finger Foods Are Created Equal" study, they found that only two of the nine products tested met all of the AAP's criteria, with choking hazard concerns raised over four of the nine products. 

More from The Stir: 7 Foods Toddlers Choke on & How to Make Them Safe

Testers were blinded, given foods randomly, and told to dissolve it in their mouth without using their teeth (makes sense, right?). After sampling each product four times (twice when they were fresh and twice after they'd been left out for at least an hour), they recorded how long it took to for the food to completely dissolve and/or become so small that swallowing was unavoidable.

According to lead investigator Nicol Awadalla, MD, a fellow in the department of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New York, there was "considerable variability" in "product size, shape and consistency," and several foods had to be broken into smaller pieces before they could qualify as "infant bite-sized." 

More from The Stir: Warning: Top Choking Hazards for Kids Could Take Moms by Surprise

That's pretty scary! As any parent can tell you, making the transition from purées to finger foods is definitely an exciting milestone in baby feeding, but it can be a tricky one, too: Chewing is a skill that takes babies a while to master, and even the most seemingly benign bits of food can end up being choking hazards. So product recommendations are pretty important to moms and dads when it comes to choosing foods that will (hopefully) be safe.

But since clearly we can't rely on manufacturers' advice, here are some things you should know before you serve up that "first food":

1. Bear in mind that changes in the consistency of foods can can occur when they've been left out of their packaging for extended periods of time, becoming less soft and harder to dissolve.

2. Study authors say additional research is needed to categorize products marketed for infants in different stages of growth. The "crawling" designation in particular doesn't necessarily mean anything, as this milestone really has nothing to do with oral-motor development and finger-food readiness.

3. Product names have not yet been released, but concerns were raised over the following types of products being possible choking hazards: Melts, puffed grain products, biscuits, and long, cylindrical shaped cereal.

And remember to always cut soft foods like bananas and cooked veggies into bite-size pieces (when in doubt, go smaller!).


Image via Cavale Doom/Flickr

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