New research highlights challenges for parents when starting their babies on solid foods

Monday 26 November, 2018. A new report launched today by safefood finds that parents view weaning as an exciting but challenging time as they deal with lots of information and advice on starting their babies on solid foods.

Introducing the research Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health & Nutrition 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.”

Laura Taylor, Health and Social Wellbeing Improvement Senior Officer at the Public Health Agency continued: “Weaning can be an exciting and sometimes daunting time for parents as they introduce their baby to the world of solid food. Advice is often conflicting with lots of opinions thrown in to the mix, so take your time. It is recommended to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months and then continue with demand-breastfeeding as solid food is introduced.”

The introduction of solid food to an infant’s diet should take place at about 6 months of age. 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. Babies who are breastfed can continue to be breastfed while they are starting family foods and up to 2 years of age and beyond. There is no need to move from breastmilk to formula milk when introducing solid food.

Other 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 everyday.
  • 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 report “What parents think about weaning - An island of Ireland study” is available to download from www.safefood.eu.

- Ends -

For more information or to request an interview, please contact

safefood - Dermot Moriarty / Julie Carroll

Tel: +353 1 4480600 / 086 3811034 (Dermot)

+353 1 448 0618 (Julie) or press@safefood.eu 

Advice for parents on introducing solid foods to babies

  • Commercial baby foods are baby foods sold in jars and pouches. Try not to rely on these foods every day as they are more expensive and less nutritious than preparing food at home. Check the sugar and salt content as this may be high.
  • Try to offer your baby the same foods as the rest of the family, provided it’s suitable for their stage but leave out added gravies, sauces, sugar or salt. This way, you know exactly what your baby is eating.
  • Many ready-made baby foods have a similar flavour base so taste the same to your baby. If you are using these foods, it’s a good idea to add in some of your own homemade food to make the taste, texture and appearance more interesting – this helps your baby get used to different flavours and textures.
  • Supermarket-bought baby foods often come in pouches. Sucking food from a pouch does not teach the same eating skills as eating from a spoon or with your fingers. If your baby sucks food from a pouch they will not get the aroma or know the colour or shape of the food.
  • If you are offering a food pouch it is important to put the food into a bowl and feed it from a spoon to your baby.
  • Allow your baby to get used to having food on their hands and around their mouth.
  • If you do use commercial baby foods, choose savoury meals rather than desserts or puddings, as deserts and puddings can be high in sugar. Corn snack / vegetable puff finger foods for babies are widely available to buy. These melt in your baby’s mouth so they do not have to chew. It is important to offer textures from a range of different finger foods such as fruit or veg, toast, breadsticks, cheese, cooked pasta so that your baby learns how to chew.

About the research

19 focus groups involving 83 parents were conducted in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The key issues, influences and barriers faced by parents when weaning were identified from existing scientific literature and included in the topic guide for discussion in the groups. Qualitative data was also collected from parents on infant health and feeding, demographic information, quality of life, social support and knowledge of nutrition. All research tools were tested in advance with relevant stakeholders and a pilot group of mothers.