Science Says Early Intro To Solid Foods Might Help Babies Sleep Better

by Valerie Williams
Image via alice-photo/Getty Images

Babies fed solid foods sooner slept better than their exclusively breastfed counterparts

While our mothers are only too pleased to tell us how we slept through the night at five minutes old or whatever because they stuck rice cereal in our bottles, us modern moms have been fed a steady diet of “breastmilk or formula only until six months” advice. Now, a new study has found that earlier introduction to solid foods could mean babies sleep better.

Because when it comes to parenting, the conflicting information just never ends.

The study’s findings fly in the face of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendation to exclusively breastfeed until six months of age. Researchers from the U.S. and U.K. followed 1,303 three-month-old infants until age three, between 2008 and 2015, with half the babies being exclusively breastfed until six months and half beginning solids at three months. Specifically, peanuts, eggs, and wheat, as the study was originally geared toward finding out if early introductions to allergenic foods would prevent the development of food allergies later in life.

Instead, the research pointed to a solid link between early feeding of solids and babies sleeping for longer periods of time. Co-author of the study Gideon Lack, a professor of pediatric allergy at King’s College London, says that although there wasn’t a big difference between the two groups of infants, the conclusion was clear — babies who were given solid foods earlier slept better than their exclusively breastfed counterparts.

How much better, you ask? Infants eating solids slept an average of two hours more per week than their exclusively breastfed counterparts. The solids crew was also 9 percent less likely to wake up in the middle of the night than the babies consuming only breastmilk.

Lack tells The Guardian, “An added benefit (of early introduction of solids) is that it seems to confer better sleep for the children. We believe the most likely explanation for our findings of improved sleep is that that these babies are less hungry.”

Welp. Guess our nagging moms trying to push rice cereal at us might have been on to something. But of course, there’s also research backing the idea that it’s best to stick to breastmilk or formula until six months, so maybe, just maybe, parents could do what’s best for their kids and not worry so much about conflicting advice from medical professionals? Wild idea, I know.

The thing is, not only is every mom different, every kid is different. I tried solids with my first baby around four months, as she was drinking so much formula her pediatrician thought it might be best to try food, but she just pushed it out with her tongue and had no real interest until around eight or nine months. After that experience, I decided to wait longer with her little brother, but by four months, he was staring longingly at our food from his bouncy seat while we ate dinner. When I finally gave in around five months, he eagerly gobbled up anything I gave him while continuing to breastfeed.

Bottom line? Consult your pediatrician and do your own research but above all, listen to your baby.