Research carried out at NUI Galway into the challenges of introducing solid foods to babies has been published in a report launched today by safefood.
The new report finds that parents view weaning as an exciting but challenging time as they deal with lots of information and advice when starting their babies on solid foods.
Dr Colette Kelly, lead author of the study and Director of the Health Promotion Research Centre at NUI Galway, said: “Weaning an infant to solid foods is an exciting time for parents but they can feel anxious about what, when and how to feed their baby.
“Parents want practical and clear information at the time they are starting to feed solids to their baby.”
Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health & Nutrition at safefood, said: “The first two years in a child’s life is a critical time for growth, development and establishing healthy eating habits for the child and for the whole family.
“We carried out this research to hear from parents about their experiences of weaning their babies on to solid foods. A worrying factor is the reliance on commercial baby foods rather than confidence in their own home cooking.”
In the research, parents were open about the many challenges that they faced:
- Choosing baby foods to introduce at the weaning stage can be confusing.
- Varying opinions and advice from grandparents, family and friends about what to do.
- Practical advice needs to be available when the time is right, not in the new born period.
- Weaning can bring up feelings of inadequacy, embarrassment and guilt for parents.
Dr Phil Jennings, HSE Director of Public Health and National Lead for the Healthy Childhood Programme, welcomed the report, stating: “The findings further confirm the support that parents require at this crucial stage of their child’s development. Professional advice and support is available from public health nurses, GPs and practice nurses.”
The time to introduce solid foods is important – not before 17 weeks and not after 26 weeks (for both breastfed and formula-fed babies).
This timeframe is recommended by health experts as before 17 weeks, a baby’s kidneys and digestive system are immature and may not be able to handle food and drinks other than milk.
Delaying the introduction of solid foods beyond 26 weeks is not recommended because babies that are 26 weeks old need solid food to meet all their energy and nutrient requirements and the baby is now ready to develop important skills for eating a mixed diet.
Important advice for parents who are introducing their babies to solid foods is to:
- Always stay with your baby when he/she is eating to make sure he/she doesn’t choke.
- Never add any foods to your baby’s bottle (this includes rusks) as this can cause choking and can damage teeth.
- Avoid foods and drinks high in fat, salt or sugar as they encourage unhealthy food preferences which persist through life.
- From six months, babies should be introduced to drinking from a cup or beaker. Tap water can be offered to your baby in a cup at meal and snack times. Cow’s milk (full fat) can be offered as a drink from one year onwards.
- Use foods that you would normally eat as a family – there is no need to go out and buy special weaning foods, however be mindful of the salt content when making family meals especially when adding stock or gravy granules to dishes.
- While commercial baby foods can be convenient for when you are out and about, these should be the exception and not every day.
- Allow plenty of time for feeding, particularly at first. Until now your baby has only known food that comes in a continuous flow from a nipple or teat. Your baby needs to learn to move solid food from the front of the tongue to the back in order to swallow it. The food tastes and feels different – it’s bound to take time so don’t be surprised if baby initially spits the food out or appears to dislike it. It will take time for baby to become used to new tastes and textures.
- Encourage babies to be involved at mealtimes, eat a variety of foods, hold finger foods and spoons and encourage them to try and feed themselves.
- Avoid distractions at mealtimes such as televisions, phones or tablets. Mealtimes are an ideal opportunity to interact with baby.
The research was funded by safefood and was led by NUI Galway in collaboration with Queen’s University Belfast.
The NUI Galway research report, What parents think about weaning – An island of Ireland study is available to download from www.safefood.eu