Early solids, better sleep

The Pediatric Insider

© 2018 Roy Benaroch, MD

Current American and UK guidelines call for exclusive breastfeeding of all infants until six months. That’s not especially realistic, and relatively few parents do it, but it’s an “aspirational” sort of recommendation that’s been around a while.

Earlier solids now seem to be gaining some traction. Early peanut introduction (in a 4 to 6 month window) can help prevent peanut allergy. Though the evidence that this is true for other foods is less clear, we know earlier foods won’t make allergies more common or worse.

And now, there’s good evidence for another reason why waiting until 6 months might not be the best choice: babies who start solids earlier might just sleep better.

A British study published in July, 2018 looked at about 1300 breastfed infants from Great Britain and Wales, randomized at three months of age to either begin solids right away, or wait until about six months of age. Questionnaires were completed every one to three months, tracking their health, sleep habits, and other factors until age three. The results seem to back up some conventional wisdom many grandmas have been saying for years: feeding babies earlier than six months helps them sleep better.

Parents weren’t forced to start solids exactly at a certain age, but on average most of the babies in the early group started by 4 months, and most of the babies in the late group started between 5 and 6 months. While the differences in sleep weren’t huge, they were significant:

  • Early-fed babies slept, on average, 7 minutes more per night; the peak of the difference was at 6 months of age, when early-fed babies slept over 16 minutes longer.
  • Early-fed babies were less likely to wake at night, averaging 2 fewer awakenings per week.
  • Later-fed babies were twice as likely to be reported to have “serious sleep problems” by their parents.

Bonus: the early-fed babies were just as likely to continue breastfeeding. Often, exclusive breastfeeding has been recommended to continue for six months; but it turns out that introducing solids early did not lead to early cessation of nursing. Moms can do both.

There’s been some concern that early introduction of solids may increase obesity risk, but the evidence for this is not conclusive, either. So: early solids seem associated with less food allergy, better sleep, no impact on breastfeeding, and (probably) no effect on obesity. It’s looking like the “wait until six months” recommendation, so widely ignored, might not be a reasonable recommendation after all.

So when should you start? Babies need to reach certain motor and cognitive milestones, so they can take a mouthful off of a spoon. The four-to-six month window seems very reasonable to me. Sit together, eat as a family, share your foods, and enjoy the mess!

More about introducing solids to babies:

What’s the exact, best age to start solids for your baby?

Introducing solids to baby: Which ones, and when?

What should a seven-month-old baby eat?

Fixing peanut allergy by eating peanuts

Want to avoid celiac? Don’t delay wheat past six months

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Explore posts in the same categories: Nutrition

2 Comments on “Early solids, better sleep”

  1. Heather Mccreary Says:

    In my experience it takes. Baby 1-2 months just to figure out how to eat.

    Like

  2. Wzrd1 Says:

    Finally, science begins to catch up with the grandparents of this world! 😉
    Rather than dismissing out of hand, actually studying observed and reported phenomena helps advance science.

    Like


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