Study Finds Babies Who Start Solids Before 6 Months May Sleep Better

baby eating food

Another day, another study that goes against everything new moms have been told. We all know that many trusted groups such as the The World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend babies be exclusively breastfed for at least the first six months of their lives before introducing solids. Now a study published in JAMA Pediatrics is stating introducing solids as early as 3 months can help a child sleep longer, with less wake ups during the night.

The study looked at 1303 babies selected at random who were introduced solids at 3 months old, and compared them to babies who were exclusively breastfed. It found that the babies who were introduced to solids at the earlier age had 'significantly increased sleep duration and reduced nighttime wakings and the reporting of very serious sleep problems.'

This is pretty huge news for any parent who has ever suffered through endless sleepless nights with a baby who just can't seem to be satisfied.

Dr. Gideon Lack, senior author of the study and a professor and head of the Department of Paediatric Allergy at King's College London, understands the impact sleep deprivation has on a family. "Lack of sleep can be pretty devastating for babies and their families," he said.

Originally designed as a study to look at how infants develop allergies, Lack and his team of co-authors began to look at the correlation between feeding and sleep habits. The babies in the study were split in to two groups, with mothers introducing solids at approximately 16 weeks in one group and the mothers in the second group introducing solids at approximately 23 weeks. All babies were exclusively breastfed prior to the study.

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baby eating food
Credit: iStock / Ivanko_Brnjakovic

At 6 months the researchers began to notice the difference in sleep patterns. Those who received solid foods slept an average of 7 minutes longer each night from the age of 5 months to 1 year. They also averaged about 2 fewer wake ups per week in the middle of the night. "The sleep difference is more on the order of 16 or 17 minutes a night which correlates to about 2 hours extra sleep a week," Lack explained.

Researchers also found that these benefits actually extended beyond that first year as well. "We were all -- me and my co- investigators -- we were very surprised by this finding," said Lack. He also suggested that the research findings suggest "that sleep patterns and sleep activities are imprinted or rather developed very early on in life."

While this study does show the correlation between early feeding and extended sleeping, there are many other studies that prove the opposite. Parents need to do what's best for themselves and their child and take all factors in to consideration when determining the best time to introduce their child to solid foods.

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