Feeding your baby solids early may help them sleep, study suggests

Maricruz Casares
Julio 10, 2018

Feeding babies solid food from the age of just three months old could help them sleep better and improve their long-term health, a major study has found.

Introducing solid food to babies before they reach six months might offer a small improvement to their sleep, new research suggests.

The results, based on data from 1,162 infants and taking into account factors such birth weight and whether children had eczema, reveal babies introduced to solids from three months slept, on average, two hours more a week at the age of six months, than the babies who were only breastfed.

Dr. Clare Llewellyn, a lecturer in behavioral science and health at the United Kingdom -based University College London, who did not work on the research, told Newsweek that because mothers reported how long their babies slept, "we can't be certain if the mothers who introduced solids earlier were biased by the commonly held view that infants who are given solids earlier sleep for longer".

"While the official guidance is that starting solid foods won't make babies more likely to sleep through the night, this study suggests that this advice needs to be re-examined in light of the evidence we have gathered". The group was split in half, with one group consuming exclusively breastmilk for six months and the other gradually incorporating solid food into their diet along with breastmilk.

The team did note that the study did not use sensors to monitor infants' sleep and that parents might have misreported sleeping behaviour because they had previously encountered the idea that babies fed solid foods earlier sleep better.

Brown urged caution, noting that no difference in waking was seen until after five months, despite one group being introduced to solids from three months, and that self-report of infant sleep by exhausted parents was unlikely to be precise.

The study showed that infants in the group who ate solids as well as breast milk slept longer, woke less frequently and had far fewer serious sleep problems than those who were exclusively breastfed until about six months.

Co author of the study Dr Michael Perkin, from St George's, University of London, pointed out that small differences generated large benefits for parents.

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Parents have been told for years to delay introducing solid food, mainly to encourage mothers to continue breastfeeding for as long as possible, but also because scientists thought food introduced earlier could lead to allergies.

"At the RCPCH, we recommend that mothers should be supported to breastfeed their healthy-term infant exclusively for up to six months, with solid foods not introduced before four months".

Some babies like to start with mashed foods.

Responding to the study, Prof Mary Fewtrell, nutrition lead at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, pointed out that guidelines for infant feeding are now being reviewed.

'However, the evidence base for the existing advice on exclusive breastfeeding is over ten years old, and is now being reviewed in the United Kingdom by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition and in the EU by the European Food Safety Authority. It can take lots of attempts before your baby will accept a new food or texture.

"We expect to see updated recommendations on infant feeding in the not too distant future".

Last month, the Royal College of Midwives responded to the pressure felt by new mothers by publicly stating new guidelines for midwives to respect a woman's choice not to breastfeed.

The study on solids was part-funded by the Food Standards Agency, which was also looking at how allergies develop in babies. If there is any doubt about what's best for your baby, please seek advice from your doctor or health professional'.

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