Weaning Practices on the Island of Ireland: A Qualitative Approach

 

    

 Background

Weaning is an important time in a child’s development and both the timing and types of foods offered to infants can have significant health implications. Good weaning practices ensure appropriate nutrition for infants and contribute to a varied diet. Weaning can also be an emotive and challenging time for parents/care-givers, because there are various sources of information available, and advice is often conflicting.

Guidelines for parents in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland provide advice to wean between 4 and 6 months of age. However the practice of early weaning and inappropriate food choice for infants is of concern on the island of Ireland. The deleterious short- and long-term health implications of early weaning are well documented, including increased weight gain, risk of allergy, eczema and enteritis. Conversely weaning infants later than recommended may negatively affect feeding behaviour and lead to nutrient deficiencies and failure to thrive. While timing is a key issue, the type, variety and sensory properties of foods offered to, and tasted by children are also important, as are the strategies that parents rely upon to promote food intake.

Key determinants of early weaning include lower socio-economic status, lower maternal education, younger maternal age, absent/short duration of breastfeeding, maternal smoking and lack of advice/information from health professionals. Early introduction of complementary foods is also a potential determinant of the early introduction of cows’ milk, suggesting the co-occurrence of risky feeding behaviours. Health professionals have a role in the provision of evidence-based, best-practice advice on weaning, yet data from the both the UK and Republic of Ireland indicates varying levels of knowledge and consistency among health professionals of weaning recommendations and advice practices.

 

Aims and objectives:

  1. To investigate parents knowledge, attitudes and practices in relation to weaning their child(ren) between 4 and 12 months of age;
  2. To gain insight into the key barriers and facilitators that parents face when/if following weaning guidelines with their own child(ren);
  3. To investigate the key sources of information and guidance that parents are using that are viewed as both practical and helpful;
  4. To collaborate with parents on the mechanisms through which support can be provided for families weaning their infants;
  5. To make recommendations on guidelines which offer support for parents around weaning.

 

Methods and Findings

This study consisted of a qualitative research design, using focus groups and vignettes to collect data from parents. Different stakeholders, including parents were involved in the design of research tools and the research process. To address inequalities in infant feeding outcomes, this study focused on disadvantaged families.

Parents were recruited through community groups and social media. Nineteen focus groups were conducted in total; 11 of which were held in the Republic of Ireland and 8 in Northern Ireland, with 83 participants in total. The data were transcribed, coded and analysed using thematic analysis. Draft findings and recommendations were discussed with parents. A report will be available in the coming months.

 

Preliminary findings were presented at a number of events and conferences,

  • Kelly, C. (2016) Healthy Eating in the Early Years. Oral presentation at the Galway City Early Years Health and Wellbeing Plan 2016-2020 Launch. National University of Ireland Galway, 28th June, 2016.
  • Kelly, C. (2016) Healthy Eating in the Early Years. Oral presentation at the Healthy Eating Active Living Launch.  Mayo, 28th July, 2016.
  • Kelly, C., Tully, L., Kearney, PM., McKinley, MC., Dean, M., Spyreli, E. & Woodside, JV. (2017). Complementary feeding among disadvantaged parents on the island of Ireland: Emerging influences on practices. Oral presentation at the British Feeding and Drinking Group Annual Meeting 2017. Reading, 7th April 2017.
  • Tully, L., Kearney, PM., Woodside, JV., McKinley, MC., Dean, M., Spyreli, E., Allen-Walker, V. & Kelly, C. (2017). Weaning to solid infant foods among disadvantaged parents on the island of Ireland: Emerging influences on practices. Poster presentation at the Association for the Study of Obesity in Ireland (ASOI) Annual Conference 2017: Preventing and Treating Childhood Obesity. Dublin, 4th and 5th May 2017.
  • Tully, L., Kearney, PM., Woodside, JV., McKinley, MC., Dean, M., Spyreli, E., Allen-Walker, V. & Kelly, C. (2017). Complementary feeding among parents from disadvantaged backgrounds: design and recruitment. Oral presentation at the Maternal and Infant Nutrition and Nurture Conference 2017: Nutrition and Nurture in Infancy and Childhood: Bio-Cultural Perspectives. Cumbria, 6th-8th June 2017.
  • Tully, L., Allen-Walker, V., Spyreli, E., Woodside, JV., McKinley, MC., Dean, M., & Kelly, C. (2017). Weaning infants to solid foods among disadvantaged parents on the island of Ireland: emerging influences on practices. Seminar; University College Cork, 25th July 2017.
  • Tully, L., Kearney, PM., Woodside, JV., Allen-Walker, V., McKinley, MC., Dean, M., Spyreli, E. & Kelly, C. (2017). Weaning infants to solid foods among disadvantaged parents: an all-Ireland study. Oral presentation for Galway and Roscommon HSE Nutrition and Dietetic Service CPD day. Roscommon, 9th September 2017.
  • Tully, L., Kearney, PM., Woodside, JV., Allen-Walker, V., McKinley, MC., Dean, M., Spyreli, E., Allen-Walker, V. & Kelly, C. (2017). Weaning among disadvantaged parents on the island of Ireland: the influence of returning to work. Poster presentation at the Health Promotion Annual Conference 2017: Promoting Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace. National University of Ireland Galway, 15th June 2017.

 

Principal Investigator: Dr Colette Kelly (NUI Galway)

Researcher: Ms Louise Tully, Ms Meg Malcolm (NUI Galway), Dr Virginia Allen-Walker and Ms Eleni Spyreli (QUB).

Collaborators: Prof Patricia Kearney (UCC), Dr Janas Harrington (UCC), Prof Jayne Woodside (Queen’s University Belfast), Dr Molly Byrne (NUI Galway), Dr Caroline Heary (NUI Galway), Prof Catherine Hayes (TCD), Dr Seamus Morrissey (Galway City Partnership)

Funder: Safefood, the Food Safety Promotion Board

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