Babies sleep better when fed solid foods earlier, study suggests

If you're having trouble getting your little ones to sleep, there may be a simple solution. Feeding them solid foods earlier could do the trick, a new report suggests.

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Both the the U.K. National Health Service and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that mothers only breastfeed for about six months before introducing solid foods.

However, researchers from health institutions in England and Wales recently conducted a trial, published in JAMA Pediatrics, to determine if the early consumption of solid foods can influence an infant's sleep. The assessment was a secondary analysis of a primary study about food allergies.

To do so, they separated about 1,300 babies, aged three months, into two groups. One ate solid foods at the three-month mark, while the other was breastfed up until six months.

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After analyzing the results, they found that babies who began eating solids after three months woke up about 0.27 fewer times and slept about 16 minutes longer than those who started at six months.

The authors said there was a more than 50 percent reduction in the number of families reporting serious sleep issues in their babies. They also noted that the improvements continued throughout the first year of infancy.

Patricia Denning, a pediatrics expert at Emory University who was not a part of the study, called the findings “interesting.”

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"The quantitative data in this study, while statistically significant, may not be clinically significant," Denning told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Sixteen more minutes of sleep has "questionable significance for the infant," she said.

Although the authors do not yet fully understand the link between introducing solids earlier and better sleep among babies, Denning hypothesized two possible factors. She explained that increased calories and the delayed gastric emptying from solid foods could lengthen “the duration of the feeling of satiety allowing for longer sleep time.”

Nevertheless, she advises mothers to consult with their doctors before making any changes in the kids’ diets.

“It's also important to note that the authors are careful to state that if parents introduce solid foods earlier (under the guidance of a physician), a concomitant benefit ‘may’ be small improvement in sleep characteristics,” Denning said.

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"They are not recommending a change in guidelines based on this study alone. Thus, it's very important not to over-interpret the results of this study."

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