Baby Led Weaning: 12 Ways to Handle the Mess

I’ll give it to you straight: baby led weaning is a whole lotta mess. Letting baby take the lead in self-feeding is equally hilarious and exasperating. This was one of the biggest challenges for our family, given the wee man would take about an hour to explore his food, and there’d be another hour of clean-up afterward…it felt like I was constantly prepping, serving and wiping, just to do it all over again when I was finished! 

deal-with-messy-meals

But, as with all challenging phases of your child’s development, this too shall pass. As your little one becomes more adept with their fine motor skills (hello, pincer grip!), is more interested in eating and less in dropping, squishing and smearing, you’ll find you spend less and less time scouring hummus off the floor. 

Until then, here’s what helped our family cope:

  1. Try to join in. It will be far less stressful on the both of you if you have a little fun too. Talk to your baby about what they’re discovering - what colour is the strawberry? Does it feel cold in their mouth? Is it squishy and soft? Food under one is all about exploration so try to think of every bit of mess as an opportunity to learn!

  2. Suit up! Invest in serious bibs that catch food and really cover baby’s clothes. We loved the Bibetta Ultrabib, and for those spaghetti bolognese moments, the Bumkins Sleeved Bib. Both are easy to throw in the wash, waterproof, and handled two years of smears and splats. 

  3. Go bare. There’s something beautiful about stripping baby down to the nappy and serving dinner like that! Great for the before-bathtime meal.

  4. Get an easy-clean highchair. When you shop for your chair, avoid ones with lots of nooks and crannies in the tray and seams in the seat or seat cover. Removable seat covers might look cushy but their underside will quickly become a hiding spot for errant peas.  We loved the Juice highchair from Mamas and Papas, but many parents swear by the IKEA Antilop. We also loved the Mamas and Papas Baby Snug when wee man was under a year, as the whole tray could easy pop into the dishwasher. 

  5. Choose your dining ware wisely. In the beginning, babies are fine to eat straight off the high chair tray. As you move on to plates and bowls, choose bowls with drip catches and plates with suction on the bottom to keep them on the tray instead of the floor. I love the Avanchy organic bamboo series with removable suction bottoms as I’d want to keep them around the kitchen long after baby is weaned!

  6. Doidy cup to the rescue. Learning to use a cup to drink can be challenging for little ones. Even child-sized cups are often difficult to peer inside and see the water level, ending up with water being spilled everywhere (and in our case, a shocked and crying baby!). Doidy cups have a unique angle that allows little ones to see inside easily, and results in less mess.

  7. Consider the food you offer. If you’re in a rush at lunch time and can’t deal with loads of mess, try easy to grasp foods that don’t leave many crumbs behind, like porridge bites and cheesy quinoa bites. Wee man loved mini pittas stuffed with sandwich fillings like ricotta and spinach or tuna and cream cheese - self-contained mess! 

  8. Don’t overload the tray. Not only will a mountain of food overwhelm baby, I can guarantee that 70% of it will end up on the floor!

  9. Avoid distractions. Meal time should be a relaxing affair. Leaving the telly or screen on while your wee one is eating is bound to cause more mess. Keep the distractions to a minimum and let your baby focus on what’s in front of them: the lovely food! 

  10. Invest in a splash mat. It is a life saver. They save your floors, and can be thrown in the wash or easily wiped down with a soapy cloth. We used the Bumkins Splash Mat, but there are lots of options on Amazon if you're after one that doesn't look too out of place in your own home.

  11. Take lunch outdoors and let the squirrels clean up the mess. If you have a garden, it’s a great excuse for a picnic. Bring your splash mat with you and you’ve got a dry spot to sit. 

  12. Don’t start cleaning until mealtime is done. A parent fussing over the food on baby’s face is no fun for baby, and no fun for you. Wait until mealtime is done to wipe everything down, or you’ll be doing it constantly. …but do clean up immediately afterward. Especially if you’re serving up porridge or cereal, as you’ll find they turn hard as rocks if you leave them too long!

You can check out all the mess-saving gear our family used during our BLW journey, too.

What are your tips for handling BLW mess? Leave a comment :) 

Learn how to introduce solids to your baby

Get the FREE 5-day course and learn how to wean well. Sign up for First Foods Fundamentals to start your baby-led weaning journey, step-by-step, with lessons delivered to your inbox!

Enrol Now Free >>


Should I reduce milk feeds now that my baby is eating solid food?

reduce-milk-baby-led-weaning

In the first year, solid foods should only complement - not replace - baby’s milk feeds. So take cues from your baby and don’t reduce milk feeds or stop breastfeeding on demand just because solid food has entered the picture. Breastmilk (or formula) continues to be the primary nutrition for your baby, so don't skimp!

You’ll often find that in baby led weaning, especially in the beginning, much of the food ends up on the floor or on baby’s face, so don’t mistake the amount he or she is actually digesting! At this stage, solids won’t likely fulfil their hunger as they haven’t quite got the knack of eating quite yet.

If you are breastfeeding, you can offer a milk feed prior to baby's solids meal - try an hour or so before the meal. This will also keep up demand for your milk in a way that will allow you to keep up your milk supply.

As your baby begins to eat more (i.e. three small meals a day), they will gradually cut down the amount of milk they drink. If you’re breastfeeding, you may not even notice this as cutting down on drinking milk doesn’t necessarily decrease time on the breast or frequency of feeds. 

If you are bottle feeding, allow baby to stop when he or she indicates they’ve had enough. Generally speaking, once fully established on solids, baby should get about 600ml of formula milk daily. But, as always, all babies are different. Check with your GP or health visitor if you have any concerns.

The best rule of thumb, even after introducing solids, is to follow your baby’s lead and continue to provide milk on demand.

Learn how to introduce solids to your baby

Get the FREE 5-day course and learn how to wean well. Sign up for First Foods Fundamentals to start your baby-led weaning journey, step-by-step, with lessons delivered to your inbox!


My baby is constantly hungry and milk doesn’t seem to be enough. Time to start solids?

breastfeeding-baby-led-weaning-introducing-solids

Not necessarily. Growing babies have ups and downs in their appetites. Growth spurts and “wonder weeks” can often mean that your baby will become a real guzzler for your milk during certain periods of time. While cluster feeding can be exhausting, it is entirely normal!

If your baby is under six months, and growing and developing as they should, you should feel confident that milk is meeting their needs.

Even once you have introduced solids, remember that in the first year they will only complement - never replace - your milk feeds. So take cues from your baby and don’t reduce milk feeds or stop breastfeeding on demand just because solid food has entered the picture! And don't give into the myth that solids will help baby sleep through the night - it's simply not true

Appetite has little to do with signs of readiness for solid foods. Get familiar with the developmental milestones to judge whether babe is truly ready.

Learn how to introduce solids to your baby

Get the FREE 5-day course and learn how to wean well. Sign up for First Foods Fundamentals to start your baby-led weaning journey, step-by-step, with lessons delivered to your inbox!