Introducing complementary foods to infants
: a look at the practice of feeding in the UK and Italy

  • Cristini Costantini

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Complementary feeding is the process of adding additional foods and nutrients to an infant’s milk diet. Advice about the when, the what and the how of introducing complementary foods to infants, varies across European countries, and very little is known about its actual practice. Therefore, the main aim of this thesis was to explore the introduction of complementary foods in two European countries - Italy and the UK - with very different attitudes towards foods, as well as different health care systems. Twenty-three families in Portsmouth, UK, and 23 families in Rome, Italy were visited on three occasions: Visit 1, before the onset of complementary feeding, Visit 2, one week after the introduction of complementary foods and, Visit 3, at 7 months of infant age. Mothers were interviewed about their perceptions and experiences at each visit, and
feeding was video-taped at Visits 2 and 3. The feeding process was analysed in terms of maternal feeding style, infant responses and willingness to eat, and mother-infant synchrony. Thematic analysis was conducted on the maternal interviews at Visit 3. Although they were given different advice by health professionals, British and Italian mothers introduced complementary foods at a similar range of infant ages. The age of onset of complementary feeding (early or late) did not influence the willingness of the infant to eat. Both British and Italian infants were introduced to healthy foods (i.e., fruit and vegetables) from the onset of complementary feeding. Contrary to general advice about how to feed infants, interacting with the infant and using distractions during feeding had no implications for infant willingness to eat. Positive child eating habits may be based on a foundation of maternal sensitivity to infant interests and on the creation of dialogue within feeding.
Date of AwardApr 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorVasu Reddy (Supervisor), Alessandra Fasulo (Supervisor) & Lucy Akehurst (Supervisor)

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