Whether it’s your mother-in-law, a co-worker, or one of those know-it-all moms in the online comments, somebody has probably tried to tell you that once you start feeding your baby solid foods, they’ll start sleeping better. But will putting rice cereal in their bottle, giving them a banana before bed, or whatever else you’ve been told actually lead to longer, better sleep for your baby? And should you try starting solids as early as four months to try to catch those extra winks?
The short answer is (sorry!) no.
There’s never been any published evidence showing a strong link between solid foods and sleep in infants. One study showed that neither the timing of introducing solids nor the amount of solids eaten affected how often 6- to 12-month-old babies woke up during the night. Another study showed that babies who had rice cereal added to their bottle didn’t sleep significantly longer than those who didn’t. Another study even showed that starting solid foods before four months can lead to shorter sleep duration. (There was one recent study that was touted by the media as showing a link between early introduction of solids and sleep, but the details of the study don’t really back that up.)
You get the point.
What’s more, most experts don’t recommend starting solid food until your baby is 6 months old. This is when babies are generally developmentally ready to do the things required to eat solid foods, including holding their heads up well while seated, opening their mouth when offered food, and moving food back from the spoon into their throat, instead of just dribbling it out. Starting solids before six months also comes with an increased risk of gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses. Researchers have also found that waiting until six months to start solids can protect your baby from issues like allergies, obesity and iron deficiency. (But be sure to ask your pediatrician what they recommend when it comes to starting solids for your baby, as there may be some cases where starting earlier is recommended.)
By the time they’re six months old, most babies still need 1-2 nighttime feedings, and adding solids, or tanking them up before bed with extra food, breast milk or formula, isn’t likely to make much difference. If your baby is waking up more than once or twice, it’s probably not due to hunger, but other reasons: They might be teething, feeling too hot or cold, needing a diaper change, or having an ear infection, cold or stomach discomfort.
Or—and this is a biggie—they may not have learned how to fall back asleep independently when they wake up. If your usual strategy is to rock or hold or nurse your baby until they fall asleep, then guess what: That’s what they’re going to need to fall back asleep when they wake up in the middle of the night. If this is the case, then you’ll need to help teach them how to fall asleep on their own, each night giving them a little less support until they’ve mastered independent sleep. It’s not as hard as it sounds! You can totally do it—and Nod can help.
Have more questions about feeding and baby sleep? Let us know! We’re always happy to help.