Many parents have questions about starting solids and wonder how starting solids might impact their baby's sleep. Let's discuss the most common questions about introducing solids to your baby and how it affects sleep.
Will starting solid foods help my baby sleep better?anchor
Many hopeful parents truly believe that starting solids will be the turning point for those tough nights. However, research doesn’t support a significant connection between beginning solids and babies sleeping through the night. Adding cereal to a bottle, beginning solids before a baby is ready, or stuffing them full of food is NOT the solution to long, restful nights. In fact, studies show us that these three things can actually cause a disruption of sleep instead.
Please know, calories are an important component of restful nights, but adding solids is not the “fix” for most who are struggling with night sleep. Baby sleep is about so much more than just the fullness of a tummy.
How do I know if starting solids is causing problems with my baby’s sleep?anchor
For little ones who have a strong sleep foundation, adding solids usually does not derail sleep. But what should you do if nights suddenly become disrupted after beginning solids?
Ask yourself these questions:
1. Are solids replacing necessary milk intake?anchor
Understand that, during the first year, breast and bottle feeding is the main source of calories. Exposure to solids should never replace full breast/bottle feedings. If solids begin to replace milk intake, your baby may not get enough calories during the day, causing them to wake during the night.
This doesn’t mean you need to limit your baby’s solids, but instead try to follow these guidelines:
Avoid rigid feeding schedules.
Always be responsive to a baby’s hunger cues by offering the breast or bottle every 2.5 - 3.5 hours during the day on a flexible feeding schedule.
Offer solids 30-90 minutes after breast/bottle feedings.
Your sample schedule when introducing solids to a 6 month old could look like this:
Text version of table
*Please don’t try to replicate this schedule exactly. Always be responsive to your baby’s hunger cues as you fit necessary feedings around nap times. The time of day when you offer solids can be whatever best fits your lifestyle and your baby’s temperament – in the morning, afternoon, or evening.
Your daytime routine for a 7-9 month old could look like this:
Text version of table
*Please don’t try to replicate this schedule exactly. Always be responsive to your baby’s hunger cues as you fit necessary feedings around nap times. The time of day when you offer solids can be whatever best fits your lifestyle and your baby’s temperament – in the morning, afternoon, and/or evening.
2. Is my baby experiencing physical discomfort after a new food is introduced?anchor
Don’t let this question alarm you. If your doctor has given you the "all clear" for solids, please don't let the fear of allergies or physical discomfort keep you from offering new foods.
Instead, watch for these things:
Allergic reaction: Speak with your doctor or get medical attention regarding any signs of allergies to food (itchiness, swelling, etc.). The AAP encourages introducing new food options to your baby one at a time and watching for their reaction. This will help you to identify possible allergies. (Please know that avoiding high allergen foods is no longer recommended after 6 months.)
Constipation: As we begin introducing solids, a baby’s digestive tract may need a bit of time to adjust, and for some, this can impact sleep. You may find your little one has bowel movements less frequently than before and/or the stool is more formed. This is normal and shouldn’t impact sleep. If your baby is experiencing pain and a firm belly (possible constipation), this should prompt you to contact your doctor.
More frequent bowel movements: Some foods may cause your baby to have more frequent bowel movements. When these poops occur at night or during the early morning hours, it will impact sleep. Simply keep track of what your little one ate and at what time. Try moving those specific foods earlier in the day. This issue typically resolves fairly quickly as your baby becomes more accustomed to eating solids.
Expert Tip: Once your baby reaches 6 months of age, be sure you are offering a couple of ounces of water in a cup as you offer solids too. (The AAP recommends waiting until 6 months to offer water and no more than 8 ounces of water per day for babies 6-12 months.)
3. Could something else be causing new sleep struggles?anchor
At the same time solids are being introduced, babies are facing huge developmental strides including: increasing mobility, expanding interest in the world around them, and changing sleep needs. Although it can look like introducing solids caused a sleep disturbance, this is often coincidental. Truly, your rough nights may have nothing to do with beginning solids.
If solids won’t fix sleep, how can I help my baby sleep better?anchor
Here are a few of the elements vital to restful baby sleep:
1. Age-appropriate daytime scheduleanchor
Consolidated night sleep is directly impacted by what happens during the daytime. It’s important to have active awake-time, developmentally appropriate stimulation, and plenty of rest during the day too. (Yes, naps actually do help babies sleep better at nighttime.) Finding a flexible schedule that is age-appropriate will set your nights up for success.
2. Consistent bedtime routineanchor
In the 30 minutes prior to bedtime, offer a consistent bedtime routine that helps calm your baby and prepare for sleep. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It just needs to be the same activities in the same order each night. For example: change into jammies, offer breast or bottle feeding, read a book, sing a song, and put down into the crib.
3. Environment conducive to sleepanchor
4. Ability to fall asleep independently at bedtime and throughout the nightanchor
Having the ability to fall asleep at bedtime without being fed, rocked, or bounced to sleep is the building block for great nights. Why? Because no one actually sleeps through the night. We all awaken multiple times a night (often without even knowing we are awake).
The key to having long, consolidated nights is the ability to connect sleep cycles by putting ourselves BACK to sleep after these wakings. Babies have to learn to do the same, and it all starts by falling asleep independently.
5. Adequate daytime caloriesanchor
We know that hungry babies don’t sleep well, and sleepy babies don’t eat well! Feedings and sleep are truly connected, so we always want to be responsive to a baby’s hunger cues. What does that mean? If your baby is hungry – feed them! During the first year of life, the majority of a baby’s calories should come from breast milk or formula, so we want to provide those full feedings every 2.5-3.5 hours during the day.
6. Solution to reverse cyclinganchor
Often, exhausted parents are searching for a quick solution to get babies back to sleep at night. For many, breast or bottle feeding is their go-to response. However, more night feedings can result in a baby who simply isn’t hungry during the day but takes more feedings at night. The cycle repeats, and you have a legitimately hungry baby at night who doesn’t eat well during the day. The answer to breaking this cycle is to gradually wean night feedings so that your baby shifts all (or at least most) needed calories to the daytime.
7. Plan for teaching your baby to sleepanchor
If your baby is missing one of these elements, baby sleep can be so tough. Please know, help IS available. My 5–24 Month Collection will give you a step-by-step plan to 10-12 hour nights in the crib. These classes will cover bedtime, night wakings, night weaning, and naps through the first two years of life. You’ll have a plan to follow anytime sleep is disrupted: through regressions, teething, illnesses, and setbacks too.