Whether you are doing Baby Led Weaning or using purées, there can be a lot of mess involved with weaning a baby, especially in the early days. This can be stressful for parents and can be enough to put you off giving your baby finger foods to begin with.
It’s so important that babies do have the opportunity to make a mess and use their whole bodies when eating, especially when trying new foods. Imagine coming across a new food for the first time and not being sure whether to try it or not. You would likely want to prod it, touch it, smell it and taste it before putting it straight into your mouth, and your baby is no different. Using their senses to explore foods is a great way to increase their acceptance of new foods and the likeliness of trying something new in the future.
Because you want mealtimes to be an enjoyable occasion, for both you and your baby, here are a few tips to help manage the mess.
1. Prepare yourself
First things first, explore how the idea of mess makes you feel, and any coping strategies you might need to put in place. You want mealtimes with your baby to be stress free, so it’s something you need to think about in advance. Babies learn through exploration, so we need to give them the time and space to get a little bit messy with food. It’s too much to expect them to take food from a spoon neatly when eating for the first time. Plus, food is really exciting! They want to touch it and see what that bright yellow pepper feels like, or what happens when they squash broccoli with their fist.
It’s probably not a good idea to dress your baby in their best outfit for a meal of pasta and sauce, and you might not fancy changing your baby’s outfit after every meal of the day. There are SO many different bib options out there to try, from the basic cloth bib with Velcro fastening, to whole-body suits that attach to the highchair. It’s easy to spend a lot of money, and unfortunately you won’t know what works best for you until you try – start with a basic one and see what you really need before spending more. I personally really like silicone ones with a deep pocket for catching any bits. Alternatively, ditch the clothes completely and head straight for the bath afterwards!
3. Mat under highchair
Having a mat under the highchair not only saves your floor, but also means that you can pick up any food that falls and give it back to your baby. You don’t need to buy anything special; a cheap shower curtain or tablecloth can work fine – it just needs to be easy to wipe clean.
4. Bowls & plates
At some point your baby is quite likely to pick up their bowl and discover what happens when they push it over the edge of their highchair. One way of dealing with this is to not use a bowl or plate and instead serve foods straight off the tray or table that baby is sat at. If you are using plates and bowls, there are many options with suction on the bottom to stick them to surfaces – these only stick to smooth surfaces though, so bear this in mind when choosing a highchair!
5. Save clean up until the end
Trying to clean as you go with a weaning baby is no fun, will stress you out and actually can be detrimental to baby. Babies need to learn that it’s ok to get messy, and weaning provides them with a safe way to explore different sensory learning experiences. If they get food on their hands and face, leave it there until the end of the meal, don’t wipe down hands or scrape at faces with the spoon. Have a wet cloth or a bowl of warm water ready for the end of the mealtime, and then clean up together.
There’s no way to avoid mess completely when feeding babies - trust that they will learn to use cutlery and not throw food. But by understanding why mess is so important during weaning, and by preparing yourself (and your kitchen!) ahead of time, you can really start to enjoy the overall experience.