Babies fed with solids early sleep longer, wake less frequently

Feeding your baby solids early may help them sleep, study suggests

The study found that infants in the group which had solids introduced early slept longer and woke less frequently than those infants that exclusively breastfeed to around six months of age.

In the study, researchers looked at 1,303 infants from when they were three months old to three years.

More than 1300 healthy breastfed three-month-olds were split randomly into two groups in one the babies were exclusively breastfed until they were six months old - as current guidelines recommend - while children in the other group were breastfed and given solid foods, including peanuts, eggs and wheat, from the age of three months, in addition to breastfeeding.

The NHS Choices website says: "Starting solid food won't make your baby any more likely to sleep through the night".

However, most mothers in Britain already ignore this advice, with 75 per cent introducing solids before five months and 26 per cent saying they did so to stop their babies becoming hungry overnight.

However Professor Amy Brown of Swansea University, whose research includes weaning of babies, said the benefits revealed by the study were "minimal" in real-world terms, and that other research showed no rewards for early introduction of solids.

Gideon Lack, who led the research, said: "Our study supports the widely held views by parents that it is more satiating for a baby to have solids". The EAT study showed that introducing small amounts of allergenic foods to younger babies helped reduce food allergy risks. "If the baby's sleeping poorly, the mother's quality of life is very clearly affected".

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But the new study suggests that advice is flawed - and suggests babies do better if solid food is given earlier, alongside breastmilk.

More significantly, the group of babies on early solids reported half the rate of the type of serious sleep problems, such as crying and irritability, which make it less likely that parents are going to get back to sleep. Babies who sleep more may wind up consuming less breast milk, he added.

Of course, let's not forget the official advice, and that is to breastfeed your child for his six months of life - exclusively. "This is quite a well-designed study to actually answer that particular question", he said.

Professor Mary Fewtrell of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said: 'These are interesting findings from a large randomised controlled trial.

But the findings don't mean parents should feel free to give solid food to infants younger than six months to improve their sleep, he added.

"However, the evidence base for the existing advice on exclusive breastfeeding is over 10 years old, and is now being reviewed in the United Kingdom by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition". If there is any doubt about what's best for your baby, please seek advice from your doctor or health professional'.

"We expect to see updated recommendations on infant feeding in the not too distant future".

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