Advice on when to feed your baby solids has been bouncing back and forth for decades.
Some say it’s better to leave it later while others say earlier the better. What should we make of all the advice? As parents, all we want to know is what’s best for our children. We take a look at the information out there and what to make of it.
What does the research say?
Studies in the UK and US have been looking at the optimal time to introduce a baby to solid foods.
A clinical trial was conducted that studied whether early introduction of certain foods to a babies diet could reduce allergies and have an impact on growth and sleep.
Gideon Lack, professor of paediatric allergy at King’s College London, and a co-author of the research had this to say, “An added benefit (of early introduction of solids) is that it seems to confer better sleep for the children.”
Differences of opinion in the medical field
Lack and the team of researchers behind the study highlighted that while their findings should encourage the early introduction of solids to a babies diet, there are many confusing sources out there, even medically verified ones. They acknowledge that government suggestions based on research suggest later introduction age than their study does.
Study: Solids from 3 months and 6 months
Professor Lack’s study was extensive. 1300 healthy, breastfed, 3 month old babies were split into two groups. One group introduced solids at around 3 months and the other waited until 6 months. The results showed that, on average, infants that were introduced to solid food from three months slept 2 more hours a week than those introduced at 6 months. It was also found that they woke two times less during the night per week at six months than the babies who were introduced to solids later. Those introduced to foods earlier also had 9% fewer incidents of waking during the night over the course of the whole study.
Why should a parent introduce solids early?
Professor Lack says, “We believe the most likely explanation for our findings of improved sleep is that that these babies are less hungry.” Underpinning this positive effect, Lack explains that solid foods might prevent high amounts of regurgitation in a baby and encourage feelings of being full.
Professor Amy Brown of Swansea University, however, doesn’t believe the study has enough weight to push parents to introduce food at 3 months saying, “There is no clear physiological reason why introducing solids foods early would help a baby sleep, especially not for the very small amounts parents were instructed to give in this trial.”
While the debate continues in the medical community, Erin Leichman, a senior research psychologist at St Joseph’s University has wisdom to give, “Results of this study certainly warrant further research on the topic, particularly addressing how long babies continue to breastfeed despite introduction of solids and how parents interact with their babies at bedtime and during the night after a night waking, which can be related to sleep and night wakings.”
In the end, the decision to introduce solids to your baby can and should be a family based matter in collaboration with a trusted medical professional.