Weaning and Sleep

“When is the right time to introduce solids to my baby?”

“Will my baby sleep better at night when they start on solids?”

These are two common questions I hear so I thought I’d so a quick blog to address these questions.

When should you start weaning?

The UK’s Department of Health, recommends introducing solid foods are ‘around 6 months’ old. The signs you should look out for and that help to show your baby is ready are:

1- Able to sit up and hold their head steady

2- Absence of ‘tongue thrust reflex’

3- Good hand-eye coordination

Solid food should never be introduced before 17 weeks of age as their digestive systems are not ready to cope with anything other than breastmilk of formula. In fact, introducing solid foods too early can cause sleep disturbances due to digestive discomfort.

The most important thing is to assess whether your baby is developmentally ready for the transition to solid foods. Always check with a professional if you are unsure.

Can starting solids help my baby sleep?

Lots of parents misinterpret frequent night wakings as a sign that their baby is ready for solid food. Advice from the NHS 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 this this age, and not necessarily always because of hunger. We naturally stir between each sleep cycle at night and some babies signal to their parents that they need help to settle into the next sleep cycle. Once sleep trained, they should be able to do this independently.

There are a lot of reasons that babies wake up during the night. They may have a dirty nappy, wind, have been startled by a noise or maybe have just stirred between sleep cycles and need help to drift back off. You are the expert on your baby and are the only one to judge whether they are hungry in the night and whether they need more frequent feeds. Always assess the situation and check if there could be another reason that they have woken up. For babies of weaning age and older, is it worth waiting and interpreting their signals before rushing to feed them again straight away.

Could my baby be waking more due to nutritional needs?

If your baby is showing all the signs that they are ready for solid foods but you haven’t got started yet, it could be possible that this is contributing to more night wakings. Although remember, it’s not about ‘filling up your baby’- in the beginning they may only take a very small amount of solids. The amount they eat is highly unlikely to affect their sleep, so make sure to follow your baby’s lead on how much they want to eat and trust them to take what they need. It is very tempting to try to get them to take more with the hope it’ll make them sleep, but unfortunately this is not the case.

Can introducing solids cause night wakings?

It is possible that digestive issues after starting solids may temporarily disturb your baby’s sleep. Their digestive systems are adapting to the change from an all-milk diet to one that includes solid foods. But they key here is that this should only be a temporary disturbance. If your baby has never slept ‘well’ and continues this way after introducing solids, there is likely to be another reason why they may be waking frequently. However, it is just as likely that something else could be cause a change in their sleep behaviour- they are learning lots of new skills in their first year such as rolling over, sitting up, communication etc, so it’s very normal for their sleep to fluctuate and change as they grow.

Are there any specific foods that induce sleep?

There are a lot of claims that specific foods can make your baby sleep but, ultimately a good night’s sleep comes from having a heathy balanced diet including all food groups. You should also look at when they eat as having a big meal before bed causes your metabolic rate and body temperature to rise which can make it harder to get to sleep. It’s best practice to give their meal about 2 hours before bedtime to allow them time to digest their food. And try new foods predominantly at breakfast or lunch to avoid potential disturbed nights.

In conclusion…

Starting solids will not automatically make your baby sleep through the night. Sleep is more complex than this. Some babies can sleep through the night from a very young age but others do it much later. While all babies switch between light and deep sleep, some still wake up more easily than others and some need more support than others. And solid foods won’t change this!

So when a well-meaning family member or friend tells you that starting solids is all you need to do to get a good nights sleep, just smile, nod and tell them you are doing just fine!

Blog inspired by 'Just Chill Baby Sleep' post

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