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The importance of messy play for babies starting solids

Starting your baby on solids is an exciting time, but incredibly messy. But, did you know that letting your baby get messy is important? Of course, the idea of extra cleaning and even more laundry might seem overwhelming and frustrating, but it’s worth it in the end. The connection between messy play and a baby being more open to trying new foods is huge. 

Mealtimes should be messy playtime

Mealtimes are so much more than food for babies. They use all five senses to eat, so for them it’s also an opportunity for a wonderful learning and sensory experience. They’re curious in nature and will actively use these experiences at the table to explore, and discover a whole new world of textures, colours, and smells. So, don’t just think of it as getting food into your baby, but a time for play and connection. 

Mess prevents sensitivities to new textures

Keeping your baby constantly clean can result in them feeling uncomfortable with new or different textures or sensations, particularly if they can feel your anxiety about mess. Allowing them to explore the food with their own hands means that they will soon learn that they can bring food to their mouth and feed themselves – a skill that we want to encourage. If you’re spoon-feeding them, you might like to give them a spoon with food on it as well, or put some of it in front of them to play with. 

Make mess positive

Letting babies get messy keeps mealtimes calm and positive. If you’re getting frustrated by them grabbing the spoon, or you’re constantly wiping their face or the table, then it doesn’t feel positive for either of you. It might be difficult, but try to resist wiping their faces and hands (and hair and ears!) throughout a meal, or scraping their mouth with the spoon. Keep your attitude and facial expressions positive, even if there’s a big blob of mush hanging off their chin. 

Messy play away from the table

Being okay with them getting messy isn’t just contained to mealtimes. Giving them plenty of opportunities for messy play is important for brain development. When they experience new textures, this vast amount of sensory input helps their brain get accustomed to different sensations. This then lays the groundwork for eating a variety of textures. 

Tips for messy play:

  • Babies don’t have huge windows between feeds and sleep, so find some time once or twice a week when they’re not tired or hungry. Mornings might work best, and you could have the necessary materials ready to go to save time. 
  • You could set up some activities on a plastic mat, outside on a picnic blanket, or even in an empty bath (if you’re particularly nervous about mess). Use a large bucket or baking tray.
  • Get involved yourself, and tell yourself that it can all be cleaned up at the end, and that it’s benefiting your baby. 

Messy play ideas

Anything you use needs to be safe for them to put in their mouth. You know they’re going to do that and it’s a perfectly normal way for babies to play and explore. You’ll find some messy play ideas in our list for sensory play here, but for some extra inspiration, you could also use whipped cream, edible playdoh, flour, cooked spaghetti noodles, or jelly. 

A note on picky eating

If your baby is showing signs of fussiness around food, or equally if you’d like to avoid a picky toddler later on, start to let them get messy. For some little ones, sometimes it’s nothing to do with the food, but rather about the anxiety they have around getting their fingers dirty or dropping food on the floor. So, as it difficult as it may be, lighten up and embrace the mess! 

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