You’re not a fully-fledged mum until you’ve had at least one porridge-in-hair incident, and if you haven’t reached that stage yet, chances are you will soon. Between seven and nine months, your baby is making rapid progress with weaning, tackling lumps and new tastes and making her first attempts to feed herself – and all of that can be a recipe for mess. We all have different tolerance levels when it comes to messy eating, but it’s impossible to get through this stage without some collateral damage – so just how do you keep your cool?
Do pick a sensible spot
If you have a room that you’d like to keep looking its best, it’s probably not the ideal location for your baby’s mealtimes. Generally speaking, the kitchen, with its tiled floor and wipe-clean surfaces, is a more sensible bet than the living room, where you’ll be fretting about every speck of puree that hits the carpeted deck.
Do cover up well
Weaning is messy, whether you’re at the spoon-feeding stage or have progressed to finger foods, so make sure you protect anything that you don’t want to get splattered. That means a long-sleeved bib for your baby and, ideally, an apron for you. If you’re feeding your baby in a bouncy chair, car seat or pushchair rather than a high chair, you might also want to drape a couple of strategic muslins or tea towels across it to protect the seat covers.
Do protect the floors
Fact: when babies are eating, food gets spilt. Even if you have easy-to-clean hard floors, it’s sensible to use a plastic mess mat or even just a few sheets of newspaper under the high chair, so you can shake any mess out of the back door after the meal rather than having to wipe or vacuum the floor.
Don’t discourage independent eating
Yes, it’s messy when your baby starts to feed herself, but it’s an essential part of her development. If she’s started to grab the spoon, catapulting its contents across the room, try a ‘one for you, one for me’ approach, giving her a spoon of her own to play with while you shovel food in with another.
Don’t fret about using fingers
We all know that spaghetti Bolognese is a less convenient finger food than a cheese sandwich, but your baby doesn’t. Exploring food with her hands helps her get used to the different textures and can make her a more enthusiastic eater. If it’s getting really messy, and there’s considerably more playing than eating going on, it might be time to end the meal and try again later.
Do make it fun
Zooming ‘aeroplane’ spoons, silly songs and funny faces can all help hold your baby’s attention during mealtimes, so she focuses more on eating her food than on spreading it across every surface within her reach.
Do consider the occasion
When you’re planning your baby’s meals, consider what you’re doing next. If it’s almost bath time, then why not let her get stuck into a mucky bowl of tomato pasta? But if you’re expecting a visit from the extended family, go for a low-mess option that’s easy to clean up.
Do be prepared
The last thing you want is to be faced with a bowl-on-head incident when the nearest packet of wipes is buried at the bottom of the changing bag in the boot of the car. Arming yourself with a cloth, some kitchen paper or wipes before you start feeding your baby means you can deal with spillages quickly and easily.
Don’t get stressed
If your baby is just messing about with the food and it’s getting to you, take the bowl away and try later when you’re both calmer. Milk still forms the bulk of her nutrition, and she won’t starve if she goes without a meal. Once she realises that too much play and not enough eating results in her food being taken away, she’ll gradually settle down to the task in hand. Don’t get cross, as you want eating to be a pleasurable experience, but do make it clear that if the fun gets out of hand, dinnertime is over.
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