Background

Nearly all research on child feeding has been conducted among mothers. There is a critical need to understand the role of non-maternal caregivers in feeding children and how multiple caregivers navigate shared feeding responsibilities.

Methods

Participants included 100 low-income mothers of pre-adolescents. Mothers participated in a semi-structured interview that included questions to assess: (1) involvement of other caregivers in child feeding, (2) the content of conversations between mothers and other caregivers regarding child feeding, and (3) agreement between caregivers regarding child feeding. The research team collaboratively developed a coding scheme that was used to identify themes in mothers’ responses. Two research assistants independently applied the coding scheme after establishing reliability (kappa ≥ 0.70).

Results

The majority (84%) of mothers reported that another caregiver is involved in feeding their children. Fathers and father figures were involved in feeding children in 52% of families. Other caregivers, often grandparents, were involved in child feeding among 32% of families. Mothers commonly discussed their children’s health with other caregivers, including foods to encourage for health and physicians’ recommendations for healthy eating. Mothers also frequently discussed the amount of food children eat and children’s food preferences with other caregivers. Many mothers reported disagreeing with other caregivers about child feeding, with caregivers most often disagreeing about what types of foods should be encouraged or restricted.

Conclusions

Among low-income families, fathers, grandparents, and other caregivers are frequently involved in child feeding and children’s eating is commonly discussed among caregivers. Providing non-maternal caregivers information about child feeding, and helping mothers negotiate child feeding with other caregivers, may be important intervention strategies to ensure children’s healthy eating and weight among low-income families.