Published: Wed, July 11, 2018
Medical | By Vicki Mclaughlin

Study suggests weaning babies sooner onto solids can aid sleep

Study suggests weaning babies sooner onto solids can aid sleep

Feeding babies solids from three months improves their sleep, according to a study that contradicts NHS advice.

For the latest United Kingdom research, the parents of half the children were encouraged to feed their babies solids, such as white fish or wheat, before six months, while the other half were told to stick to breast milk alone until that time.

However Professor Amy Brown of Swansea University, whose research includes weaning of babies, said the benefits revealed by the study were "minimal" in real-world terms, and that other research showed no rewards for early introduction of solids.

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. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Australian government, and others have changed their infant feeding guidelines to reflect the findings, which were published in 2016. "Given that infant sleep directly affects parental quality of life, even a small improvement can have important benefits".

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.

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. Infants who started solids early also woke up about 9% less often.

The researchers from King's College, London, and the University of London admitted it was possible that mothers giving their babies solids may have responded to their questions in a more positive manner, having expected a positive effect, since many parents already believe that the practice encourages better sleep.

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The children's health and behaviour was followed for three years, with their sleep and consumption of solid food tracked by families through questionnaires.

It comes after a milestone study by Professor Lack's team two years ago found allergies are actually less likely if certain foods - particularly peanut butter - are given to babies from an early life.

Of course, let's not forget the official advice, and that is to breastfeed your child for his six months of life - exclusively.

When an infant's frequent nighttime wakeups are causing concern and anxiety, parents can consult their paediatrician about whether starting solid food would be appropriate, Dr Kim said.

Despite the official piece of advice, about 75% of mothers gave solid food to their babies before five months - 26% of the babies were waking up at night frequently because of this reason.

But the new study suggests that advice is flawed - and suggests babies do better if solid food is given earlier, alongside breastmilk. Babies who sleep more may wind up consuming less breast milk, he added.

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