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Will solids help my baby sleep better?


There have been so many advances in sleep science over the past 10 years or so. There has also been a major shift in the theory behind baby feeding.


I remember when my first was around 4 months old and my brain started thinking about cereals and purees. I was shocked to read and learn that this theory of beginning baby on solids was largely antiquated and nearly phased out. What replaced it? Baby Led Weaning starting at 6 months.


So, naturally I was confused and had questions. I called my mom, my sister in law, my friends, and my pediatrician. And EVERY person had a different approach.


GAH!!!


So, let me tell you what I learned so you can be spared from the multiple theologies and perspectives.


And to start with the title of this post, will solids help my baby sleep better? The short answer – usually, no! Read on.


When to start solids


First, let me say that there is no wrong or right way to start solids (well, ok there is one wrong way listed further down). Whether you start with purees or baby led weaning, both are completely safe and great ways to introduce textures and flavors to your baby.


When to start these two different types of foods actually depends on the age.


You can start cereal and purees as young as 4 months. This is still the “old school” way of things, and is totally fine to do. Some people poo-poo cereals, but do what works for your family.


Baby Led Weaning can start at 6 months. Up until this point, baby’s mouths and tongue muscles are not quite ready to handle the bigger, chunkier pieces of food.


Additionally, you can start when your baby has an active interest in food. For example, when your 5 month old is grabbing the chicken or potatoes off your plate and giving them a nibble. This is a good indication they are ready – certainly curious!

(this is my youngest starting with puree'd green beans at 5 months)


How to do it


Please note these are generalizations from my work as a sleep consultant and as a mom - talk to your pediatrician for guidance.


The biggest thing to note is that solids, especially when just starting out (and not really until about 12 months) is for exploration - experiencing different tastes and textures. And for independence and fine motor development (hello pincer grip!). Solids are NOT meant to fill up your baby’s tummy. Most of it ends up on their face, bib, the floor, or your walls. This is normal. When babies are first starting out on solids they typically take anywhere between a tablespoon and a few ounces (for reference, a typical baby food jar of puree is 4oz) at each feeding. So set your expectations low on how much actually gets into their belly.

If you are taking the BLW route, remember not to start until 6 months. Go for soft food (should easily be squished between your fingers) – many people go for avocado, eggs, cooked vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, or broccoli. Remember, this is not about filling their tummy.


Usually when first starting out (around the 4-6 month range), babies will only be taking a meal, perhaps a meal plus a small snack in addition to their bottles. This will grow to two sold meals around 8 months and 3 solid meals around 9 months. This continues to grow even further as you add in solid snacks. And, until 12 months, be sure to offer a bottle or nurse 30-90 minutes before offering solids.

(this is my eldest at 6 months with her first solid food, avocado)


Whether going with purees or BLW, it is important to let your baby do some of the feeding. Give them a spoon but expect them to use their fingers. This establishes independence, fine motor skills, hand/eye coordination, and allows them to be in control. Don’t over feed your baby – this often happens when parents are solely in control of the feeding and viewing solids as a tummy filler. Remember, that is not the point - solids are NOT meant to fill up their tummy. I like to also go with the 3 spoon rule – one for them to use, one for you to help with, and one if it falls on the floor.


The wrong way


Either purees or BLW are perfectly fine. AND, you don’t have to choose one or the other!!! A hybrid approach is absolutely fine and is what I did with both my kids (both intentionally with my second and unintentionally with my first).


BUT, there is one way that is the absolutely WRONG way to go about solids. And this is when you replace a bottle/nursing feeding with solids. I have seen parents do this time and time again with young babies so when we are trying to figure out why baby isn’t sleeping it is because they are legitimately hungry!


I’ve said it a few times already, but solids for babies under 12 months is for exploration NOT to fill up your baby’s tummy. Solids are meant to compliment as an addition to breastmilk or formula. Your child gets the most nutrients from their liquid than anything else and should absolutely not be replaced. Feed them formula or breastmilk first, then offer solids about 30-90 minutes later.


Babies over 6 months should be consuming at least 24oz during the daytime or having 4-6 full nursing sessions. That won’t really change too much until they turn 12 months.


What happens at 12 months?


A few things happen at 12 months. This is when you begin reducing formula and breastmilk intake, switching to cows milk or another alternative, offering milk as a beverage alongside the solid meal, and switching to a cup (no more bottles or pacifiers! My favorite straw cup is here).


This sounds like a lot and it is – it is not expected to make the change suddenly. Take your time with it. Try a variety of milk types (my favorite non-dairy is Ripple Milk) and see what your child tolerates and likes. You can start splitting their cups to help make the transition.


Conclusion


To answer it one more time, solids will not help your baby sleep better. Up until 12 months solids are for exploration and breastmilk/formula is the main event. The best thing you can do is to make sure your baby is getting enough milk intake during the day.


Starting solids can be a point of anxiety for many parents. I totally get it (we didn’t even touch on typical sticky topics like allergies and chocking). Take your time with it – make it fun and try not to over complicate it! There is really no rush in getting solids into your baby’s belly. Start slowly and let your baby lead you. Make sure your baby is getting enough fluid calories during the day.


If your baby is eating well during the day and gaining weight appropriately but not sleeping well, there might be a few different things going on and it is worth exploring what’s going on. Click here for a free evaluation call on how we can work together to solve your child’s sleep challenges in just a few weeks!

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