I have a confession to make – I love the idea of babyled weaning but I just can’t stand the mess! I will never be one of those mums who posts a picture on Instagram of their baby covered head to toe in spaghetti bolognese or yoghurt. However, I know that getting messy and exploring food is important for Gabe’s development so I do try and rein in my need to clean up every spill and drip whenever I can.
Whilst working with Babymoov we’ve been lucky enough to be able to receive some great advice from nutritionist Julia Wolman. Here she explains a few of the reasons why, when it comes to weaning, mess really is best…
1. It’s fun
From experience, watching babies exploring their food in an unpressurised environment is usually accompanied by beaming smiles on their faces. And when they are happy and relaxed at mealtimes, they are more likely to enjoy eating and develop a positive relationship with food in the long run. As tempting as it might be to step in with a baby wipe, try to take a step back instead, and take pleasure in watching them enjoy themselves.
2. Learning through sensory play
Any early years’ practitioner will confirm that ‘a play opportunity is a learning opportunity’. This theory can also be applied to mealtimes. When a baby squashes a chunk of potato, s/he is learning how solid foods can, under pressure, turn to mash. When they rub their fingers in yogurt they are learning how runny textures feel. When they throw food on the floor they are learning about the forces of gravity!
Research from the University of Iowa suggests that playing with food may improve a child’s learning abilities, specifically in relation to developing early vocabulary. The study, published in the journal Developmental Science in December 2013, looked at the mealtime behaviour of 72 toddlers. It found those who were allowed to explore foods, for example, through touching, poking or throwing them, were more likely to name them correctly.
3. Increasing familiarity
Babies need to feel comfortable with and trust that new foods are ‘safe’ before they will put them in their mouths. So it follows that if they don’t know how a food smells, or feels, they may be reluctant to taste it. All too often parents may interpret this response as a baby not liking a certain food, when really, they just don’t know enough about it to want to try.
4. Fine motor skills development
Around nine months, babies usually develop the ability to use a pincer grip, whereby they can pick things up using their thumb and forefinger. Before this age they tend to grab using their whole hand. Allowing babies the freedom to explore smaller pieces of food with their fingers will help to develop their pincer grip – try blueberries, peas, sweetcorn, raisins or rice
(NB. always supervise your child and never leave them alone during eating).
5. Hand-eye coordination
Whether using spoons or self-feeding, when babies do it themselves they are learning how to get food into their mouths. And while most of it may go anywhere but their mouth at the beginning, with practice they’ll quickly work it out!
In order to help me embrace the mess of weaning we were sent a couple of products which at least will make the clean up a bit easier!
First up is the Bibetta Ultrabib with sleeves – this really is a complete coverall bib. It’s made of durable and wipe clean neoprene (the stuff wetsuits are made of), the sleeves are a thinner more flexible material with elastic cuffs, and there is a pocket at the bottom to catch any dropped food. There is a strong velcro fastening at the back, and so far at least Gabe hasn’t managed to wriggle out of it! This is a great bib for keeping any mess off clothes, there really is nothing getting through this one. The only thing I would say is that the Ultrabib is quite small so don’t expect it to fit your toddler but it fits Gabe fine for now and would be perfect for the early days of weaning.
The second product we were sent was a Messy Mat from Messy Me. Having a mat on the floor that you can easily keep clean not only means you avoid any nasty stains on the carpet but it also means you can pick dropped food up and give it back to your baby which makes for much less waste too.
The Messy Mat is made from hard wearing oilcloth. It’s a great size for under the highchair – big enough to contain most dropped food and spills. It’s really easy to wipe clean but can also go in the washing machine occasionally if you feel it needs a more thorough clean. I love oil cloth and Messy Me make all sorts of products from this great material – everything from bibs and aprons to highchair cushions and covers.
We actually already had a bigger mat that we were using to go under Toby’s chair as well as Gabe’s highchair so I put the Messy Mat on the table as a table cloth instead. It has been working really well to keep the table clean at mealtimes – although Toby doesn’t drop his food on the floor too much any more he still has plenty of spills! It’s also been great for protecting the table when Toby plays with play dough or does any other drawing or craft activities.
Weaning seems to have been a slow road with Gabe so far – various bouts of illness and teething have really affected his appetite and what he is willing to eat. The last week or so though he seems to have been much better and he’s really enjoying feeding himself too so I’m just going to keep repeating #messisbest to myself and let him get on with it as much as I can!
The Bibetta Ultrabib with sleeves has an RRP of £10.99 and the Messy Mat from Messy Me has an RRP of £24.00
**Disclosure: We were sent the featured products in return for this review but as always, all opinions are my own.