Will starting solids help my baby sleep through the night?
We’ve all heard the old wives tales related to helping your baby sleep through the night:
- Put rice cereal in their bedtime bottle
- Drink a Guiness Beer before your last nursing session of the day
- Flip your baby over, literally holding them upside down from their feet, to switch their days and nights (that one was new to me but the internet can’t lie right!?)
Recently in the news was a study published in the Journal of American Medical Association Pediatrics which concluded “the early introduction of solids into the infant’s diet was associated with longer sleep duration, less frequent waking at night, and a reduction in reported very serious sleep problems.”
Hold the phone…… so starting solids earlier helps your baby sleep through the night? 😯
Why These findings Make Me Grimace:
- I worry about all those Moms working so hard to breastfeed their babies, getting the message that starting solids earlier, possibly at the expense of breastfeeding, could help them sleep through the night.
- In addition, I’ve worked with so many parents with babies older than 6 months of age taking solids and still waking up every 3 hours at night to feed.
- I know that starting solids alone is not the answer to getting your child to sleep through the night.
- Potentially it could help at the right time, but you’ll be sorely disappointed if you expect your 4 month old to take rice cereal in her bottle and consequently sleep 11 hours without feeding. Same goes for your 9 month old who nurses 3 x per night.
- Another consideration for those of you breastfeeding is the impact of that long stretch of sleep between feeds at an early age and the impact on your milk supply.
- Due to the hormone prolactin, a mother’s milk supply is generally the highest between 1 and 5 am.
- Naturally you’ll see the first stretch of sleep to be the longest, then baby wakes to feed sometime between 1 and 5 am.
- Dropping that feed too soon could impact your supply.
Pediatrican Dr. Jacqueline Bors
I reached out to pediatrician Dr. Jacqueline Bors of the Village Doctor for her thoughts on solids helping your baby sleep through the night.
Bors says, “I wouldn’t suggest counting on solids to fix any sleep problems. If your baby is developmentally ready to start solids and the experience is positive and fun for you and your baby, it’s certainly worth adding complementary foods with extra sleep as a possible benefit, just make sure you talk to your pediatrician to help guide your decision.”
Sleep Doctor Logan Schneider
I reached out to Sleep Doctor, Dr. Logan Schneider for his thoughts on solids helping your baby sleep through the night.
Schneider says “while introducing solid foods earlier is by no means a panacea for dealing with the normal sleep fragmentation of children, there is a host of studies that clearly link diet, not just timing, but also macronutrients – proteins, carbohydrates, fats, fiber, to sleep quality. It is reasonable to believe that changes in dietary content and texture would impact hormonal signals and the duration of food in digestive system/rate of nutrient absorption, ultimately impacting sleep as well as parental mindset (eg, debating whether another feeding is necessary).”
Meaning, there is research to show that nutrition can impact the quality of sleep and give parents confidence that their child is capable of sleeping long stretches. The introduction of solid food into a child’s diet can minimize a parent’s self doubt that it is hunger that is waking the child in the night and either decrease response time or the urge to offer food to comfort.
Schneider also says “while the study’s findings are compelling, there are 2 things that must be considered:
- This is an early demonstration of this finding derived from a study meant to explore something else, so a study focused on sleep (collecting objective sleep data and daytime function parameters) is an important verification of these findings; and
- Individuals often over interpret findings like this and may inadvertently rely upon the conclusions – either going overboard and fixating on getting in solids (possibly at the expense of breast feeding) or in not taking a holistic approach that continues to focus on consistent application of time-tested techniques with a willingness to adapt to the evolving needs of one-size-fits-one, child-family unit.”
Meaning that it might be true that starting solids can prolong stretches of night time sleep, but it really depends on a combination of factors such as food, sleep habits, timing and your family’s situation.
Does formula vs breastfeeding impact the age at which babies sleep through the night?
In my experience, kids do sleep through the night at different ages depending on if they are formula fed or breastfed.
However the most compelling factor of whether a child will sleep long stretches or not at night is related to your child’s self soothing skills.
Self soothing skills are often repetitive actions that help your child relax him/herself so s/he can drift off into sleep. You can read more about why your child needs self soothing skills in this blog post.
Self soothing skills include:
- Humming or moaning
- Sucking a thumb or finger
- Sleeping in a certain position
- Rubbing a piece of soft material between thumb and fingers.
Take Home Points:
- The right combination of foods may help your child have longer stretches of sleep, but one also needs to consider sleeping habits.
- A child with poor self soothing skills will never be a great sleeper regardless of his/her intake of solids.
- Don’t give up on breastfeeding because you think formula will solve your sleep problems. It won’t.
I have so much more I want to teach you about your child’s sleep. Ready to learn everything you need to know to get your baby sleep and tackle sleep regressions? Learn more here: