Weaning onto solids & sleep

Two questions I am asked a lot are “When is the right time to introduce solids to my baby?” and “Will my baby sleep better at night when they start eating solid food?”, so I thought I would address them in this blog.

When should we start weaning?

The UK’s Department of Health (DoH) recommends introducing solid foods at ‘around 6 months’ of age.

The signs we should be looking out for around this age, to show our child is ready, are:

  1. Being about to sit up and hold their head steady.
  2. Absence of ‘tongue thrust reflex.’
  3. Good hand-eye coordination.

Solids foods should never be introduced before 17 weeks of age (or 4 months). Baby’s digestive systems are not ready to copy with anything other than breast milk or formula. Introducing solids too early can actually cause sleep disturbances due to digestive discomfort.

The most important thing is to assess whether your baby is developmentally ready. Always discuss with a professional if you are unsure.

Can starting solids help my baby sleep?

Lots of parents understandably misinterpret frequent night waking as a sign that baby is ready for solid food. The NHS advice says ‘For babies age 6 months to a year, night feeds may no longer be necessary and some babies will sleep for up to 12 hours at night.’ However, many babies will still wake at this age – and not always for reasons of hunger. We all stir between sleep cycles at night – some babies signal to their parent for support to get back to sleep, and others are able to do this independently.

There are so many reasons that babies wake during the night – maybe they have a dirty nappy, wind, they’ve been startled by a noise, or maybe they have stirred between sleep cycles and want a cuddle. You are your baby’s expert and it is down to you to judge whether they are hungry in the night, and whether they need one, two, three or more feeds. Always assess – is there another reason that my baby has woken? For babies of weaning age and older is it always worth waiting and interpreting their signals before rushing to feed at each waking.

Could my baby be waking more due to nutritional needs?

If your baby is showing all the signs that they are ready for solid food, but you have no gotten started yet then its possible that this could be contributing to night waking. Remember though, it is not about ‘filling your baby up’ – in the beginning they may only take a very small amount. The amount they eat is also highly unlikely to have an impact on their sleep – be sure to follow baby’s lead on how much they want to eat. Trust them to take what they need. It can be very tempting to try to get them to take more in the hope it will make them sleep, but unfortunately this does not have the desired effect.

Can introducing solids cause night waking?

It is possible that digestive issues after starting solids may temporarily disturb your baby’s sleep. Their digestive system is adapting to the change of an all-milk diet to one that includes solid foods. The key is that it should be a temporary disturbance. If your baby has never slept ‘well,’ and continues this way after introducing solids, it could be the time to think about other reasons why they may be waking frequently. However, it is just as likely that something else could be causing a change in your little one’s sleep patterns. Your baby is learning so many new skills in his or her first year – rolling over, sitting up, communication…it is very normal for sleep to fluctuate and change as your baby grows.

Can some foods induce sleep?

There are many claims of particular foods that will make your baby sleep, but ultimately a good night’s sleep for babies comes from having a healthy balanced diet including all food groups. More importantly we should look at when they eat – having a big meal before bed causes our metabolic rate and body temperature to rise, which makes it harder for us to get to sleep. It is best to give meals around two hours before bedtime to allow baby to digest their food. Always try new foods at breakfast or lunch to avoid a disturbed night!

So, what does this all mean?

In summary, starting solids will not make a baby sleep through the night. Sleep is a complex system. Some babies can sleep through from very early, but others do it much later. While all babies alternate between light and deep sleep the fact is that some wake more easily than others and some need more support than others. Solid foods won’t change this. So, when a well-meaning family member or neighbour tells you that weaning is the silver bullet to make your baby sleep, just smile, nod and tell them you are doing just fine.

If you want to work on supporting your little one’s sleep then you can check out our online Sleep Success courses here.

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