Introducing solid foods earlier may improve infant’s sleep, study shows
Dr. Amitha Kalaichandran MD
Most new parents dimly remember getting 6, 7, or even (gulp) 8 whole hours of uninterrupted sleep. After a new baby arrives, they may wait months — perhaps years — for a restful night’s sleep again. Google searches for infant sleep training are common, and the business of “baby sleep experts,” is booming.
Now a recent study, published in JAMA Pediatrics suggests that introducing infants to solids early on may be associated with improved sleep — and better sleep in baby can mean better sleep for parents.
This study suggests that better sleep for everyone may be related to the food babies eat: introducing solid foods earlier may lead to longer sleep time and fewer nighttime awakenings. The researchers, based at Kings College London, UK, conducted a randomized controlled trial — the Enquiring About Tolerance (EAT) study — originally to look at the early introduction of allergenic foods (cow’s milk, peanut, eggs, sesame, white fish, and wheat) on the later development of allergies.
That study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine few years ago, but in one section of their survey, they asked parents to document sleep habits in their infants. Babies randomized to consume solids before six months of age had 9% fewer nighttime awakenings and slept an average of 17 minutes more than those infants who only received breastmilk before six months of age. No infant in the study received formula.
The children in the “early introduction of solids” arm of the trial were given solids (e.g. rice-based baby food) on an average of 4 months of age. The children in the “late introduction of solids” were on average 24 weeks of age, so just under 6 months.
Dr. Michael Perkin, senior lecturer in clinical epidemiology in the Population Health Research Institute and Consultant in Pediatric Allergy in St. George’s Hospital in the U.K., was the co-principal investigator in the study.
“It’s a widely believed idea among parents that once babies are on solid food, they sleep better, so we added sleep questions into our survey to test this theory,” Perkin told ABC News, “Because the infants were randomized to either early or late introduction of solids, it’s hard to attribute the improved sleep to anything other than introducing solids.”