Document Type

Theses, Ph.D


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence

Publication Details

Technological University Dublin, 2017.


Aim and objectives:

The overall aim of this research was to investigate maternal and paternal behaviours and attitudes and their influences on the diet and growth of infants in the first year of life.

Specific objectives were to assess: maternal wellbeing and breastfeeding outcomes; weaning and supplementation practices; infant growth and body composition; and the views of fathers on having a breastfeeding partner. Methodology: The first study was a prospective observational study, involving the recruitment of 270 pregnant women from the public and semi-private antenatal clinics of the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital. Mother-infant dyads were then followed-up at birth and at four, nine and 12 months post-partum. Data were obtained on maternal wellbeing and on infant milk feeding, weaning practices and growth. The second study was a cross-sectional study in which a semi-quantitative questionnaire explored the feeding experiences of 417 men whose partner breastfed. Results: Of the sample of 270 pregnant women, 55.9% (n151) initiated breastfeeding. From this initial sample, 172 mothers were followed-up at four months post-partum, and 36.0% (n62) of these mothers were distressed. Controlling for other factors, distress was significantly (p=0.01) more likely at this time if a mother was breastfeeding. Only two in five (42.9%, n47) of these mothers put supports in place to help them to breastfeed, and of the 417 men whose partner breastfed, almost half (49.4%, n117) were unable to help their partner when she experienced breastfeeding difficulties. Of the 158 infants followed-up to one year of age, the average age at which they were weaned on to solid food was 20.7 weeks and 86.1% (n136) were weaned at or after 17 weeks of age. Only 57.6% (n91), 34.2% (n54) and 23.4% (n37) of infants were being correctly supplemented with vitamin D at four, nine and 12 months of age, respectively. Supplementing as recommended was significantly more likely if mothers had received advice on doing so from a health professional. Regarding growth, 28.5% (n45) of infants grew rapidly during the first year of life, with male infants having a significantly (p<0.01) higher fat-free mass at birth and at age one year, compared to females.

Conclusions: Parents need structured guidance to assist them in preparing for breastfeeding. Health professionals must persist in promoting healthy weaning and vitamin D supplementation practices. Further research is needed to identify clinically useful ways in which the growth and body composition of infants can be assessed.