Weaning Practices on the Island of Ireland: A Qualitative Approach





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.


This study was launched in March 2016 to explore the knowledge, attitudes and practices of Irish and Northern Irish parents who are weaning, or preparing to wean their babies. Specifically the study will explore parents’ use and attitudes regarding the recommendations and guidance they receive about introducing solid food to their infants. In addressing inequalities in infant feeding outcomes, this study will focus on disadvantaged groups and their experiences of the barriers and facilitators to following weaning guidelines. 


Data collection will commence in Autumn 2016.


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.


Principal Investigator: Dr Colette Kelly (NUI Galway)

Researcher: Ms Louise Tully (NUI Galway)


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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