Let me start by saying that I am only expressing my opinion and it is far from my intention to offend those who think otherwise. I share openly what I believe and I really hope not to bother others who don't share my view.
Of all the possible concerns parents and people in general have regarding young children, the fear of choking features, in my opinion, among the first. I have heard all kind of different people warn me "hey, your daughter has brought a stone to her mouth", or "gosh, your daughter wants to eat this or that", "be careful, that toy contains little pieces".
To the risk of sounding like a careless, negligent mother, I will confess that I have never shared this fear. My confidence in my own daughter has always seemed to be much greater than the fear she might cause herself harm. This includes, besides the fear of choking, stairs climbing, falling off beds, and the like. Facts are that I have followed all her processes very closely but I have also given her freedom to explore things. As a baby as every other baby she was interested in bringing things into her mouth and I never objected to it. I couldn't understand how other mothers would rather have their babies suck pacifiers all the time for fear they put something in their mouths. My way of seeing it is babies need to explore their environment and this includes touching sand, eventually tasting it, getting dirty and so on. I believe this helps a child build her self-confidence and learn about body boundaries more than living in a fully sterilized place without access to the real world.
Coming back to the topic I wanted to talk about, choking fears have never been an issue in our home. Having a big garden, M had -supervised- access to sand and stones as well as pine needles, bugs, and other leaves. She quietly explored those and just eventually brought a handful of sand to her mouth. My view was that letting her explore taught her much more than pestering her and trying to take things out of her mouth. This has always seemed to intrusive and not very respectful to me.
As regards food, having followed the baby-led weaning approach, non-pureed food was what she was fed from the start. I believe eating or sucking banana from early on and then other fruits and bread was also influential in developing an ability to taste things before swallowing them. This really showed us that a baby is totally capable of eating whole foods.
Facts are that she has never ever choked. Aged fifteen months she seldom puts non edible things in her mouth but whenever she does, it is for a brief exploration and she lets them go.When it comes to foods, she is able to eat custard apple and spit out the pits.
My reflection may sound boastful. I am sorry for that!! It was not my intention to boast but to declare that babies are much more capable than what we, adults, generally seem to believe. Moreover, the fear that our babies may choke can sometimes bring us, as parents or care-takers, to create a totally safe environment where all small objects are removed. This, in my opinion, is but of little benefit to the child. On the one hand, exploring small items gives a child the opportunity to develop her pincer grasp, fine motor system, and concentration. On the other hand, and again it is only my opinion, when a child has been forbidden any attempt at exploring tiny items or things have been systematically removed from her mouth, it is more likely that the need to bring things into the mouth persist longer and the risk of choking be higher.
I know it is not easy to leave a young child the freedom to explore because it mainly implies having the time to attend carefully, observe and be patient. It may also imply overcoming one's own fears.
I am only talking from our experience with M and the experience of some of our friends but I truly feel babies deserve more confidence on the part of us, adults, than they generally receive.
Do you trust your baby? Do you panic when your little one puts a pebble in his/her mouth? I would love to hear your experience and feelings toward the subject.