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Babies Who Are Given Solid Food Sooner Will Sleep Better: Study

Jul 10, 2018 07:51 PM EDT
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Babies are wonderful gifts to families, but one thing that can definitely drive new parents crazy is the sleeping habits of infants.

Specifically, their no-schedule sleeping schedule in a baby's life can leave mothers and fathers just as tired, cranky, and sleep-deprived as their newborn child.

Now, new research shows that changing an infant's eating habits can lead to better sleeping habits.

Feed Babies Solid Food Sooner: Study

While experts generally recommend exclusive breastfeeding until a baby turns 6 months old, researchers offer an alternative feeding plan that can help the family sleep better at night.

The study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics reveals that introducing 3-month-old infants to solid food helps them sleep longer, reduces the times they wake up in the middle of the night, and even makes serious sleep problems less likely.

Led by researchers from King's College in London and St. George's, University of London, the study includes data from 1,303 babies who were divided into two separate groups. The first group breastfed exclusively until they turned 6 months old, while the second ate solid foods along with breastmilk as soon as they turned 3 months old, BBC reported.

The team found that at six months, the point that had the biggest difference between the two groups, the babies who ate solid foods are sleeping 15 minutes longer every night and waking up less frequently at 1.74 times a night instead of twice. From 5 months to past 1 year old, this same group slept longer for an average of seven minutes than the other group, according to CNN.

More importantly, they were also found to be half as likely to develop sleep problems such as crying and irritability.

A couple of minutes per night may not seem like much, but co-author Dr. Michael Perkin of St George's, University of London points out that every little bit counts to tired parents and babies.

"Given that infant sleep directly affects parental quality of life, even a small improvement can have important benefits," Perkin explains to BBC.

Will Health Experts Change Their Official Stance On Solid Foods?

Mary Fewtrell, the nutrition lead at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, says that their group is currently recommending mothers to wait until 6 months before starting to feed their children solids.

"However, the evidence base for the existing advice on exclusive breastfeeding is over 10 years old, and is currently being reviewed in the UK by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition," Fewtrell continues. "We expect to see updated recommendations on infant feeding in the not too distant future."

Others are more cautious of the new findings such as Atlanta-based pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Shu, who wasn't part of the study.

"My concern would be that the recommendation of early introduction of solids (especially when increased very quickly) could result in a corresponding decrease in valuable breast milk consumption," Shu explains in an e-mail to CNN. "Parental quality of life is important but it remains to be seen if introducing solids before 6 months and/or getting small improvements of sleep is the solution."

Ultimately, it's the choice of the parents along with the recommendations of their personal pediatrician.

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