Baby bowls, spoons and cups
Plastic bowls with high sides and a ‘lip’ or gripper on the edge for you to hold are convenient for when you're feeding your baby.
But once your baby is trying to self-feed, bowls with lower, gently curving sides and a textured easy-to-grip rim can help him or her stay in control.
‘Hi-tech’ versions of feeding bowls include those with a compartment in the base where you can put hot water to keep the food warm, heat-sensitive bowls which change colour when the food is cool enough to eat, and bowls with a suction base which helps prevent spillages.
Some parents find these innovations useful, although they're not a necessity and can make feeding more complex than it needs to be.
Standard teaspoons are often too deep for babies to get a decent mouthful. Shallow spoons made from flexible plastic will help a young baby to feed - and are also liked by some babies as a teething accessory.
Self-feeding babies and toddlers will need a deeper spoon with an easy-to-grip handle.
As with feeding bowls, you can buy spoons with added features: for example, airplane-shaped spoons or, rather more usefully, spoons which change colour when food is too hot for a baby.
You may already have a cup spout attachment for your baby’s bottle if you use a feeding system. These spouts are soft and pliable and can be a useful first cup experience.
Easily grippable handles are a big plus, especially when your baby is first starting to use a cup, because he or she will find it easy to control. The drawback is that handles also make it easier for your baby to wave the cup about – not a problem if it's a leak-proof cup (see below), but messy otherwise.
When your baby is first starting to use a cup, a small cup with a soft plastic spout is ideal as a transition from a bottle. Once your baby has got used to the idea of a cup, there are various types you can try.
The simplest are those with a basic lid and a spout. These are widely used, but don’t expect this type of cup to keep leaks and spills completely at bay. As long as it is kept upright it will be fine, but once tipped sideways it will leak.
Many parents prefer the security of a leak-proof or ‘no-spill’ cup. These usually have a self-sealing valve so the drink is sealed in after each sip.
However, there are growing concerns these leak-proof cups are worse for children's teeth than other types, and dentists recommend choosing cups which allow liquid to flow freely to avoid prolonged tooth contact with sugary drinks.
The Food Standards Agency advises: ‘Cups without lids or "free flow" cups are best because they help your baby learn to sip, and are better for the teeth because the drink is in contact with them for a shorter time.’
Free-flowing cups are also better for speech development, as using them develops the muscles in the back of the baby's mouth, the same muscles used to speak.
Other issues with leak-proof cups include the fact that the valve can wear out over time, and you’ll need to replace the lid. Some cups have lids which are quite hard to get off for filling and washing. Also, younger children may not get on with them, simply because they may have to suck quite hard to get the drink out.
Despite these drawbacks, leak-proof cups remain highly popular. If you decide to buy a leak-proof beaker, check that the lid as well as the beaker is dishwasher-proof – some lids aren't.
Open cups and Doidy cups
Teaching a baby to use an open cup as early as possible is a good idea. Doidy cups are a good starting point for some babies. These plastic cups have handles and a slanted side which helps the baby to see the contents of the cup making it easier for them to guide the contents to their mouth. Expect the cup's contents to regularly get tipped over baby and everything else as part of the learning process.
A compromise is a ‘travelling’ cup, with a spout you can lift up when your child wants to drink, and put down when he or she has finished. Your child can sip or suck normally to get the drink out. The lids to these are often screw-on, so are easy to remove, but don’t come off when the cup is thrown on the floor.
However, this sort of cup may not be completely leak-proof if it gets jiggled around a lot in your bag or in the car, as it's still possible for juice to leak through the spout when it's down.