Babies introduced to solid foods early, slept longer, woke less frequently at night and suffered fewer serious sleep problems, than those exclusively breastfed for around the first six months of life, according to a new study recently published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
While the official guidance is that starting solid foods won’t make babies more likely to sleep through the night, this study suggests that this advice needs to be re-examined in light of the evidence we have gathered.” said Professor Gideon Lack, the lead author of the study.
Researchers from King’s College London and the St George’s University of London conducted a collaborative study to determine whether early introduction of solids influences infant sleep.
The Enquiring About Tolerance (EAT) study was a population-based randomized clinical trial that included 1303 exclusively breastfed 3-month-old infants and the trial studied the early introduction of solids into the infant diet from age 3 months.
The participants were divided into two groups. The standard introduction group (SIG) was asked to exclusively breastfeed to around 6 months of age. The early introduction group (EIG) was encouraged to continue breastfeeding as well as to introduce nonallergenic foods for the first week and then, while continuing these, to introduce 6 allergenic foods to their infant: cow’s milk, peanut, hen’s egg, sesame, white fish, and wheat.
Parents were asked to complete online questionnaires every month until their baby was 12 months, and then every three months up to three years of age. The questionnaires included questions about breastfeeding frequency and duration, as well as questions about sleep duration. This recorded the frequency of food consumption (allergenic and non-allergenic) for both groups and included questions about breastfeeding frequency and duration.
Maternal quality of life was also assessed using World Health Organisation measures of physical and psychological health, social relationships and environment.
The study found that infants in the group which had solids introduced early slept longer and woke less frequently than those infants that followed standard advice to exclusively breastfeed to around six months of age.
Differences between the two groups peaked at six months, with the early introduction group sleeping for a quarter of an hour (16.6 minutes) longer per night (almost 2 hours longer per week), and their night waking frequency decreased from just over twice per night to 1.74.
Feedback about maternal wellbeing showed that sleep problems (as defined by the parents), which were significantly associated with maternal quality of life, were reported less frequently in the group introducing solids before six months.
“It is a commonly-held belief among mothers that introducing solids early will help babies sleep better, and our study supports this. We found a small but significant increase in sleep duration and less frequent waking at night. Given that infant sleep directly affects the parental quality of life, even a small improvement can have important benefits.” said the co-lead author Dr. Michael Perkin, from St George’s, University of London.
For reference log on to 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.0739