Lets get straight to the point. No, giving solids early will not help your baby to sleep. In-fact it can have the opposite effect. Please be aware that it is a common misconception that solids will make your child sleep through the night. It definitely helps to sate your baby’s hunger and fill up their belly’s. But is not a magic cure to all sleep problems. In saying that, once your baby is ready to take on solids, being mindful of what you are giving them to eat can certainly benefit not just their growth and development, but their sleep too! Please read on for how you can get the most out of your childs’s sleep by being smart about food!
Food and it’s impact on baby/ toddler sleep
We already know that babies, toddlers and children require a well-balanced diet to promote healthy growth and development. But did you know that a well-balanced diet consisting of plenty of healthy carbohydrates, proteins and abundant in minerals such as iron, zinc and magnesium is also conducive to great sleep?
Okay, so how can solids help my baby sleep?
Starting solids is often an exciting but daunting time. Knowing the when, what and how can be really overwhelming to many new parents. The following provides some basic information to help understand how to use solids to get the most out of your baby’s sleep.
The general rule of thumb is to wait until your baby is 6 months old to introduce solids into their diet. However, there are many reasons why parents introduce solids early. If you think your baby is ready for solids prior to 6 months, I recommend first speaking with your baby’s paediatrician or GP.
Signs of readiness for solids include:
- Your baby is over four months of age (6 months is generally recommended by medical professionals)
- Baby can sit up unsupported and has good head control
- The tongue-thrust reflex has dissipated, meaning that your baby can move food to the back of their mouth and swallow it. Instead of forcing it out with their tongue
- You baby shows interest in watching you eat. They mimic you by opening and closing their mouth, or try to reach out and grab at your food
When introducing solids, it is recommended to start at lunchtime. This is because solids will affect your baby’s gastrointestinal tract and can possibly cause some digestive discomfort. This in turn can cause increased night waking. Therefore, introducing any new foods at lunchtime will help to reduce the impact on your baby’s tummy overnight.
What are the best foods to feed my growing child?
No matter your little one’s age, food plays a pivotal role in sleep quality. Children require an excellent balance of good complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, oats, whole-wheat pasta; proteins such as chicken, salmon, fish, yogurt; and healthy minerals such as iron, zinc, and magnesium. These foods help to fill their tummies, aid digestion and help to regulate their sleep hormones.
There are different options for feeding your baby, purees, baby led weaning and baby led feeding. Choose a method that works for your family but ensure that whatever option you choose sees your baby eating a reasonable number of solids for their age.
Why magnesium, zinc and iron?
- Magnesium: is conducive to the production of melatonin (which is your sleep hormone). By aiding your baby’s melatonin production, it helps to control their internal body clock and circadian rhythm. It is a key ingredient in calming your baby’s nervous system and is proven to help your baby spend more time in a deep sleep. See here for more information on magnesium and its relationship with sleep.
- Zinc: Research indicates that zinc has a calming effect on the nervous system. These studies indicate that healthy consumption of zinc in one’s diet, aids our body in reaching a deeper and more restorative sleep and results in less frequent awakenings through the night.
- Iron: More children are deficient in iron than any other mineral. The impacts of iron deficiency on bodily functions is vast and does not exclude sleep. Several studies have indicated that iron deficiency in infants is likely to cause poor day napping and more frequent night awakenings. For information on the impacts of iron deficiency in infants please see here.
When is the best time to feed my baby protein?
From 6 months protein becomes an important part of your child’s diet and I would recommend ensuring that one meal a day is a protein rich one. It is again best to introduce this protein rich meal at lunchtime and continue offering protein only at lunch time until around 10months of age. Protein can be difficult for your baby to digest while your baby is laying down and their digestive system isn’t firing on all cylinders. This can cause discomfort through the night and lead to increased night waking.
Milk before solids
Remember- Milk is the primary source of food up to 8months. It is best to offer your baby milk before solids up to this age. Health professionals advise that once your baby surpasses the 8-month mark you can start offering solids before milk at mealtimes as long as your child is still having at least 3-4 bottles of formula in a 24-hour period.
**Disclaimer: I am not a dietician or nutritionist; my advice attains to nutrition and its impact on sleep. If you have concerns about your child’s diet, please consult your child’s paediatrician or GP.