The Short of It
A small study called "Chew on This: Not All Products Labeled First Finger Foods are Created Equal," found many foods made for babies are in fact choking hazards!
The AAP recommends that baby's first finger foods be soft, easy to swallow, and cut into small pieces. Baby is ready to try finger foods when he or she can sit up unassisted and can bring objects to the mouth. These foods are offered as examples of what to introduce first:
- Small pieces of banana
- Wafer-type cookies or crackers
- Scrambled eggs
- Well-cooked pasta
- Well-cooked chicken finely chopped
- Well-cooked and cut up yellow squash, peas, and potatoes
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Of course, a lot of parents buy snacks for baby on-the-go. That's why a team at Cohen Children's Medical Center tested nine products specifically marketed to "crawlers" or babies over the age of 6 months: melts, cooked produce, puffed grain products, biscuits and cereals. The researchers tried the foods themselves to see if they would dissolve without using their teeth. Frighteningly, they found many popular baby snacks are potential choking hazards, especially when not consumed within an hour.
Only Gerber Graduates Fruit and Veggie Pick-ups were totally safe. Cheerios and Gerber Graduates Puffs were also found to dissolve quickly in the mouth and weren't considered dangerous. Gerber Fruit and Veggie Melts; Gerber Lil' Crunchies; and Gerber Arrowroot Cookies did not perform as well.
"To be honest, the best bang for the buck is Cheerios," study co-author Dr. Ruth Milanaik told Today. "I am not saying these are not good products, and fresh out of the box they are delicious. But we need to be more responsible and in real life, babies don't eat them fresh out of the bag."
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A case in point is Gerber Yogurt Melts, which, according to Milanaik, can absorb humidity if they sit out, which makes them harder and "marshmallowy" in consistency.
"They didn't hold up over time if they were left out," she says. "In the real world, kids might not eat them all. They cost $5 a package, so you put them in Tupperware and bring them out again. They could be a choking hazard."
Also potentially dangerous: Gerber Graduates Wagon Wheels, which researchers said were "big and scratchy."
"It's a very big product for a little inexperienced mouth," Milanaik says. "You give a 5-month-old a humongous Wagon Wheel and it doesn't dissolve magically. There is a good possibility the baby will choke."
In response to the study, Gerber offered this statement: “Gerber products feature a helpful milestone symbol on packages that guides parents to the foods their child may be ready for based on developmental milestones rather than age. We use milestones such as “Crawler” and “Toddler” on products rather than age because research has shown that children develop feeding skills at different rates and over a range of time. Utilizing different textures, shapes and sizes we design our products to match the emerging physical and eating skills typical of babies at the various developmental stages. The AAP also suggests offering a selection of flavors, sizes, shapes, colors and textures to babies in the period between 8 and 12 months. Our finger foods including the Gerber® Graduates® Fruit Pick-Ups ™, Gerber® Graduates® Puffs, Gerber® Graduates® Yogurt Melts®, Gerber® Graduates® Fruit & Veggie Melts® Snack and Gerber® Graduates® Wagon Wheels®, fall within our “Crawler” milestone. Children in the crawler stage may be ready for these foods if they demonstrate certain physical signs and eating skills, such as crawling with the stomach of the floor and beginning to use the jaw to mash food.”
I can't tell you how many bags of Gerber Yogurt Melts and Graduates Wagon Wheels we've gone though in our family over the years. And although I'd love to say I watched my children every second with these foods, I'll admit I trusted the labeling that told me they were safe for my "crawler."
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Here's what Milanaik hopes the takeaway of this study will be: "I would really love to encourage parents and pediatricians to try the products. There is nothing wrong with trying a piece of baby food before the child does."
Great advice, and moreover, parents should use this information as a reminder to be super vigilant with a new eater. After all, according to the CDC, choking is the leading cause of injury and death for kids under the age of 4, so why chance it?