Babies given solid food early sleep better, study claims

Desiree Burns
July 11, 2018

But the new study, by experts at King's College London and St George's University of London, found that in fact solid food increased sleep time and reduced the number of times a baby woke in the night.

One group was encouraged to exclusively breastfeed for around six months.

What to feed babies in the first six months of life can be controversial, with many mothers feeling judged if they are unable to breastfeed successfully, and guilty if they introduce bottles or solids.

Parents completed online questionnaires every month until their baby was 12 months, and then every three months up to three years of age.

Lack said a crucial finding is that parents who were asked to exclusively breastfeed had nearly twice the odds of reporting a serious problem with their child's sleep than those who were asked to introduce their babies to solid food early.

Researchers in the United Kingdom looked at more than 1,300 three-month old infants.

Most pediatricians recommend that babies be exclusively breastfed until six months of age when solids are slowly introduced, but a new study in JAMA Pediatrics says feeding solids to babies at an earlier age may help them sleep better.

While the practice did not provide for totally uninterrupted nights of sleep, the study of 1,303 children in England and Wales between 2009 and 2012 showed that babies given solids earlier than now recommended did improve their sleep patterns. After six months babies in both groups were eating a range of solids.

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The authors believe this is simply because those given solids did not wake up hungry in the night.

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.

Professor Lack said decisions about whether to change the United Kingdom recommendations should stay in the hands of officials, but added: 'Guidelines are already changing around the world'. But this study will certainly spark a larger debate on when to introduce solids and hopefully lead to further research to help tease it out.

Officials, however, insisted mothers should continue to follow the current advice until new guidance is published.

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.

The NHS and World Health Organization now advise to wait until around six months before introducing solid foods, but these guidelines are now under review.

"However, the evidence base for the existing advice on exclusive breastfeeding is over 10 years old, and is now being reviewed in the United Kingdom by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition".

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