‘Babies given solid food sooner sleep better’: Study
Babies given solid food plus breast milk from three months sleep better than those who are solely breastfed, according to a new study.
In the study, in JAMA Pediatrics, giving solids earlier than six months had benefits for mum and baby because the babies slept for longer and mothers reported improved quality of life, BBC reported.
The study, by King’s College, London, and St George’s, University of London, surveyed 1,303 three-month-olds and divided them into two groups.
One group was solely breastfed for six months, the other group was given solid foods in addition to breast milk from the age of three months. Parents then filled in online questionnaires every month until their baby was 12 months old, and then every three months until they were three years old.
The study showed that infants in the group who ate solids as well as breast milk slept longer, woke less frequently and had fewer sleep problems than those who were exclusively breastfed until about six months. Although the findings were significant, the differences between the solids group and the control group were not huge. Babies on earlier solids slept for up to 16 minutes longer per night, potentially giving parents about two extra hours of sleep per week.
Co-author of the study Dr Michael Perkin, from St George’s, University of London, says small differences generated large benefits for parents. “Given that infant sleep directly affects the parental quality of life, even a small improvement can have important benefits.”
More significantly, the group of babies on early solids reported half the rate of the type of sleep problems, such as crying and irritability, which make it less likely that parents are going to get back to sleep.
The NHS and World Health Organization currently advise to wait until around six months before introducing solid foods, but these guidelines are currently under review.
Experts say babies should not have solid foods, at the earliest, before the end of four months.
Despite the official advice, 75 per cent of British mothers introduced solid food before five months, with a quarter (26%) citing infant night-time waking as the reason for their decision, according to the Infant Feeding Survey of 2010.
Prof Gideon Lack from King’s College, London, said, “The results of this research support the widely held parental view that early introduction of solids improves sleep”.
First foods can include mashed or soft cooked fruit and vegetables such as parsnip, potato, yam, sweet potato, carrot, apple or pear. Soft fruits, like peach or melon, or baby rice or baby cereal mixed with your baby’s usual milk.
Some babies like to start with mashed foods. Other babies need a little longer to get used to new textures so may prefer smooth or blended foods on a spoon at first.
Keep offering different foods. It can take lots of attempts before your baby will accept a new food or texture.
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.
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.
An FSA spokesperson said: “We are encouraging all women to stick to existing advice to exclusively breastfeed for around the first six months of age. APP