The weaning essentials that every mum should have
When it comes to weaning, the right equipment can make the whole messy adventure that little bit more manageable. Children's stores and online retailers offer a dazzling array of gadgets and feeding kit, all designed to make it easier to feed your baby. In reality, there's no need to spend a fortune on weaning equipment, but nevertheless, buying a few key items at this stage can help you and your baby with the transition to solid food. So what do you really need, and why?
Highchair or child seat
At first, you might want to feed your baby in his bouncy chair, car seat or pushchair, or even sitting on your lap. But once weaning is a little more established and your baby can sit sturdily, you'll need some form of highchair. Keeping your baby upright while he's eating reduces the risk of choking and encourages good eating habits. Highchairs are usually suitable from six months, although some models can be used earlier, until three or four years, although many parents eventually switch to a booster seat that fits onto a normal dining chair.
There's a huge array of highchairs on the market, so be sure to choose one that fits your needs. If, for example, your baby can't quite sit up yet, you might choose a chair with a reclining seat to give him extra support. Or you might want a chair that folds up small in between use, or one that pushes up to the table rather than having its own tray.
Table mat and mess mat
Babies love to experiment with anything they can lay their hands on, including food, so don’t be surprised to find puree everywhere, all over your baby, highchair and the floor.To protect your floor, you might want to buy a wipeable mess mat to go under the highchair to catch spills. Mess mats are also great when your baby is eating finger foods, as you can just gather it up afterwards and shake any dropped food out into the garden. If you don't want to buy a mess mat, a folded shower curtain or some sheets of newspaper will do the trick.
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If your highchair doesn't have a tray, and your baby will be sitting at the family table to eat, you may also want to invest in some wipe-clean table mats or an oilcloth table cloth so you can wipe up easily after mealtimes. These will also help to protect your table once your little one reaches the stage of banging his cutlery on the table top!
Babies throw, dribble and play with food, making weaning a messy job. So it’s a good idea to protect clothes with a large bib. Bibs can be made of cloth, silicon or plastic. In the early stages of weaning, soft fabric bibs with a plastic backing are the best bet. They're comfy to wear, can be used to wipe dribbles from your baby's face, and are easy to wash after a meal.
As your baby gets bigger, plastic bibs with a lip to catch dropped food can be useful. You can also get bibs with sleeves, which will help protect your baby's clothes when he starts attempting to feed himself. Disposable bibs are useful for when you are on the move.
Plastic bowls and plates
Weaning bowls are usually made of plastic, which makes them lightweight and unbreakable - essential, given that they're likely to be thrown or dropped on a regular basis. They come in many sizes and all the colours of the rainbow, and many are decorated with popular children's characters to make mealtimes more entertaining.
Some bowls have a suction base to prevent your baby upsetting them or using the bowl as a missile. Some bowls come with lids, which are great for storage and for when you are out and about. Plates sometimes have two or more sections so you can keep foods separate. If you're intending to use the bowls in a microwave or dishwasher, check that they are suitable, or they may become damaged.
Your baby’s mouth and gums are very sensitive, so soft-tipped plastic spoons are recommended. Look out for spoons that are free from BPA: a chemical linked with health concerns. For early weaning, when you're feeding your baby, long-handled spoons are easiest, especially for delving into the bottom of a jar or yoghurt pot. Once your baby starts to show an interest in feeding himself, choose spoons with a short handle, deep scoop and an easy grip, so your baby can get it into his mouth more easily. Some spoons are angled to make it easier for him to find his mouth; some change colour when the food is too hot. In the early stages, there's no need to worry about buying knives and forks; these can be introduced nearer 12 months.
Sippy cups and beakers are a good alternative to bottles, especially for giving your baby drinks with meals. They will need sterilising if you are using them for milk feeds. Some cups are suitable from four months, others from six. They have spouts instead of teats and can be free-flow or non-spill. A free-flow beaker or cup might not be the best if your baby likes shaking it or turning it upside down, but it's easier to drink from than a non-spill cup, which usually has some sort of valve in the spout and can be harder to suck from. You can also get bottle-to-cup systems, such as cups that will take a bottle teat, or plastic handles to attach to your baby's usual bottle.
Frozen food storage
If you prepare your baby’s food in big batches, you will need something to freeze it in. Small plastic pots with lids are ideal, or you can simply use ice cube trays, and pop the cubes of food out into freezer bags or boxes once they're frozen. Stick labels on pots or bags so you know what they contain and when they were made. Freezing small portions is really handy in the first months of weaning when you need small amounts of food at each mealtime and want to mix and match different flavours.
An insulated bag to carry your baby’s food is essential for when you are on the move. They're ideal if you're out and about and aren't sure where you'll be able to heat your baby's food: simply heat the meal until piping hot before you leave home, pop it in the bag, and by the time your tot is ready for lunch, it should still be warm. They're also great for keeping refrigerated food like yoghurt cool on a hot day, especially if you put a freezer block inside too. Try to find a bag that has room for all the feeding essentials you'll need for a day out, such as a bib, bowl and spoons.