Mashblox are soft, hollow, silicone building blocks designed as a tool for children aged six months to three years to self-feed. They are filled with mushy foods and served to the child, capturing both their innate desire to play with their food, and to explore the world through their mouths, while also encouraging independence and healthy self-regulation habits.
Mashblox allows children to self-feed before they develop the dexterity to handle cutlery. Mashblox use BPA free medical grade silicone which means they can be boiled and sterilised, put in the fridge, freezer, microwave or oven (up to 180 degrees), and can be turned inside out to be washed in the dishwasher. They are certified choking hazard safe and Australian made.
There is an emerging field of research supporting the idea that infants allowed their independence to self feed develop healthier, less dysfunctional food habits than infants that are spoon fed. Specifically, there is a reduced occurrence of both infant obesity and fussy eating.
Baby-led weaning (BLW) is the most prominent style of self-feeding. It is an overarching approach and attitude to the introduction of solid foods, not merely a method of feeding. It is built on an underpinning ethos of respect for the baby and a belief that their instincts and bodily autonomy is reliable, and incorporates several practical elements such as the baby eating the same foods as the parents1. Although not new, BLW has gained popularity rapidly since initial studies in UK, 20121.
While tentative studies of this feeding style have yielded promising results2 3, research has been limited by both practical, and safety concerns for participants. Consumption of any food mushy enough for the infant to feed themselves without choking risk is unquantifiable on any precision scaled study because much of the food is lost as increased mess4. But other studies evidence that some infants are not developmentally ready to safely ingest any food solid enough to grab until 9 months, when choking risk lessens.5
Ethics approval process therefore disqualifies clinical trials of “true baby-led weaning” (using adult foods and textures) at a crucial development period. Studies to date examine self-report data2 3 or modify the feeding practice1 to serve both administrative and safety considerations.
It’s worth noting that while the first randomised clinical trial on Baby-Led Weaning1 found no supportive evidence for positive effects on healthy BMI, it may be significant that what these children were actually eating isn’t reported besides energy intake in kilojoules. Nor are participants followed up to observe if infant feeding influence self regulation habits and BMI as the children grow. The paper did however affirm reduced fussy eating and an improved attitude to food in children allowed to self feed, and recommended further research.
Mashblox and Self Feeding
The hypothesis behind Mashblox is that by facilitating infants to self-feed, they will maintain satiety instincts into childhood that otherwise compromised by spoon feeding.
Since no one can know the child’s appetite better than the child, spoon feeding runs the risk of habitual overnutrition. This has a cumulative effect that sets habits lasting into childhood6 and frequently for the rest of their lives7. Mashblox founder Alix believes that this may be one of the most significant and hitherto unexamined contributors to the global obesity crisis. The reason no country in the world has reduced its obesity rate in the last 30 years8 9 is at least partly because we have been trained out of knowing when to stop eating.
Mashblox benefits current research efforts by providing utensil that allows infants to handle, and feed themselves age appropriate textures, with both sensitivity to their safety, and respect of their autonomy in self feeding. Mashblox are intended to complement other age and developmentally appropriate self-feeding styles, and may broaden the nutritional options of self-feeding, since babies otherwise prefer carb-based foods2 that are easier to grab.
Granting this autonomy already reduces some fussy eating factors, in concurrence with Baby-led weaning findings1 2. But because Mashblox are also tactile and playful, they also allow opportunity for parents and carers to gently introduce flavours, variety and even vegetables that are otherwise rejected on sight alone. This can help set the variety of their tastes for life, while at the same time making feeding time more collaborative than passive and therefore less stressful.
Mashblox recommends that parents and carers use the blocks for mush foods as part of a range of self-feeding methods appropriate to the child’s unique development. This includes soft stick foods such as al dente pasta, peeled cucumber sticks, soft boiled carrot etc. In doing so, this increases the likelihood that the child will enjoy a wider range of nutritious foods as they grow.
Founder and CEO of Mashblox, Alix O’Hara, is already receiving significant anecdotal evidence that her invention assists to reduce fussy eating and mealtime stress.
Founder and CEO of Mashblox, Alix O’Hara
Alix O’Hara first conceived the idea of Mashblox by watching a toddler with an apple. She noticed the toddler biting, dropping, bouncing and rolling it on the ground, and then picking it up to eat again, covered in dirt. It occurred to Alix that food and playthings are often the same concept at such a young age, so she devised a way to combine children’s tendencies to play with their food, and to explore the world through their mouths, for more hygienic and less messy feeding. From this, Mashblox was born to provide children with a positive and tactile food experience embedded in the concept of play.
Alix has a background in arts and has always regarded herself to be highly creative. However, her studies in medical science inspired her interest in researching the benefits of Mashblox. Mashblox negotiated a partnership with the University of Canberra to provide pro bono research services starting with a feasibility pilot study exploring her hypothesis of benefits of infant self feeding to fussy eating and obesity risk. The research project did not proceed due to changes in research priorities at the University, but Alix has since received broad anecdotal proof for the pilot aims from customers directly. Alix says that the broader community have also been extremely supportive in Mashblox’s journey, with substantial interest from international academic institutions.
1 Taylor RW, Williams SM, Fangupo LJ, Wheeler BJ, Taylor BJ, Daniels L, Fleming EA, McArthur J, Morison B, Erickson LW, Davies RS, Bacchus S, Cameron SL, Heath AM. Effect of a Baby-Led Approach to Complementary Feeding on Infant Growth and Overweight, 2017 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28692728
5 Fangupo L, Heath A, Williams S, Erickson Williams L, Morison B, Fleming E, Taylor B, & Taylor R (2016), A Baby-Led Approach to Eating Solids and Risk of Choking. Pediatrics. 138(4). Pii: e20160772. Epub
7 Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity, World Health Organisation, 2017 8 Paulo A Lotufo, DrPH, Yuan Lu, MSc, Jixiang Ma, PhD, et Al (2014) Global, regional, and national prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adults during 1980–2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013