Study suggests weaning babies sooner onto solids can aid sleep

Giving babies solid foods early do the cons outweigh the pros

Most pediatricians recommend that babies be exclusively breastfed until six months of age when solids are slowly introduced, but a new study in JAMA Pediatrics says feeding solids to babies at an earlier age may help them sleep better. After six months babies in both groups were eating a range of solids.

And the better babies sleep, the better their parents' quality of life and mental health.

But the new study, by experts at King's College London and St George's University of London, found that in fact solid food increased sleep time and reduced the number of times a baby woke in the night.

One group was exclusively breastfed for six months, the other group was given solid foods in addition to breast milk from the age of three months.

Researchers from the United Kingdom and U.S. looked at data collected as part of a clinical trial exploring whether early introduction of certain foods could reduce the chance of an infant developing an allergy to them.

The questionnaires recorded the frequency of food consumption and included questions about breastfeeding frequency and duration, as well as questions about sleep duration.

Despite the official advice, 75% of British mothers introduced solid food before five months, with a quarter (26%) citing infant night time waking as the reason for their decision, according to the Infant Feeding Survey of 2010.

"An added benefit (of early introduction of solids) is that it seems to confer better sleep for the children", said Gideon Lack, professor of paediatric allergy at King's College London, and a co-author of the research.

The NHS Choices website claims this is a mistake - and solid foods will not make babies more likely to sleep through the night.

The results of the study showed that the babies that started eating solid foods sooner slept longer, woke up less, and had fewer sleeping problems than those that consumed exclusively breastmilk for that six month period.

Co author of the study Dr Michael Perkin, from St George's, University of London, pointed out that small differences generated large benefits for parents.

Brown urged caution, noting that no difference in waking was seen until after five months, despite one group being introduced to solids from three months, and that self-report of infant sleep by exhausted parents was unlikely to be precise.

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.

A Food Standards Agency spokesman said: 'This further analysis. could be of interest to parents, however, there are limitations to the findings.

'However, the evidence base for the existing advice on exclusive breastfeeding is over ten years old, and is now being reviewed in the United Kingdom by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition and in the EU by the European Food Safety Authority.

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