When should I introduce my baby to solid foods?

Last week, there was a news article titled ‘Babies given solid food sooner sleep better’ featured on the BBC news website. Sleep and feeding, be that breastfeeding, formula feeding, or the introduction of solids, are issues that many parents I see at the clinic want to talk about. So hopefully, this blog will help clarify the important points that were missed in the recent news article.

There is a wealth of information from published scientific studies that shows there is no association between what a baby eats and how much they sleep. Even if hunger was the only reason for a baby waking up, the best solution would be to give more milk, as this contains more energy, fat and protein than any other food a baby can be given. However, babies wake for a multitude of reasons, such as being cold, hot or uncomfortable.

The research study that the previously mentioned news article was referring to, actually showed no difference in how much babies under 5 months old woke up, regardless of whether they were given solids from 3 months or kept on milk only. Once the babies were 5 months old, those that had been given solid food since they were 3 months old had on average 7 minutes more sleep a night. However, most of the babies still woke 1-2 times a night regardless of what they were being fed.

This is a very small increase in sleep quantity for babies who have been given solid foods from 3 months old considering that there is a large amount of research that shows by introducing solid foods early, the risk of gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses increases significantly. Introducing solids early also increases the chance of a mother stopping breastfeeding. It is important that breastfeeding is continued alongside the introduction of solid foods to help prevent food allergies developing.

The guidelines concerning when to start babies on solid food were being reviewed at the time this news article was published, but this review was routine and not in response to any new research as implied by the news article. Following the review of all recent research, the new guidelines have not been changed and still state that “women should exclusively breastfeed for around the first six months and continue to do so for at least the first year of life once solid food has been introduced” (Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, 17th July 2018).

How you choose to feed your baby is always your decision, as everybody’s circumstances are different. However, it is important that you are provided with accurate, scientific, evidence-based information so that you can make an informed decision. Sadly, this is often quite different to the headline grabbing way in which research can be presented in the media. If in doubt, please consult with a healthcare professional such as myself who is skilled in this area and aware of the current guidelines.