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Eating solid foods earlier promotes better sleep in babies

12 July 2018

The study, by King's College, London, and St George's, University of London, surveyed 1,303 three-month-olds, and divided them into two groups.

Of course, let's not forget the official advice, and that is to breastfeed your child for his six months of life - exclusively.

The second group, while continuing to breastfeed, was asked to introduce solid foods to their infants' diet from the age of three months.

The children's health and behaviour was followed for three years, with their sleep and consumption of solid food tracked by families through questionnaires.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), the American Academy of Pediatrics and other groups recommend exclusive breastfeeding for an infant's first six months, after which solids can be introduced.

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Feeding babies solid food from the age of just three months old could help them sleep better and improve their long-term health, a major study has found.

The team did note that the study did not use sensors to monitor infants' sleep and that parents might have misreported sleeping behaviour because they had previously encountered the idea that babies fed solid foods earlier sleep better.

"To our knowledge, we show for the first time in a randomized clinical trial setting that, consistent with the belief of many parents, the early introduction of solids does have a small but significant effect on sleep characteristics", said study author Gideon Lack, a pediatric allergy professor with King's College London, and colleagues.

However he also stated that he believed "the most likely explanation for our findings of improved sleep is that that these babies are less hungry".

The researchers' findings were limited to babies' sleep duration, not on what is nutritionally best for babies.

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Official advice is to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of life. Early introduction of solids could cause harm in infants who aren't developmentally ready to chew and swallow, he explained, while starting solids can also lead to earlier weaning, reducing the benefits of breastfeeding.

Fruits such as mashed banana are feared to give a baby an early sweet tooth and make them less open to trying vegetables later on. "Given that infant sleep directly affects parental quality of life, even a small improvement can have important benefits".

Responding to the study, Prof Mary Fewtrell, nutrition lead at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, pointed out that guidelines for infant feeding are now being reviewed.

For now, women are still being encouraged to wait six months before giving their baby solid foods, but given the research, that's advice we might see change in the future.

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Eating solid foods earlier promotes better sleep in babies