Does Starting Solids Affect Your Baby’s Sleep?

Baby sleeping on mother's shoulder

This is one of the questions we get asked frequently and it makes sense, sleep can be hard to come by when you have a baby.

Whether your bub’s sleep has been a literal dream and your nervous about throwing food into the mix or they have never slept for long stretches and you’re looking for ways to get a bit more sleep, we get it. It is natural to want to know how this milestone is going to affect sleep.

Sleep is so heavily focused on, and it is often one of the first things you get questions about when you step foot out of the house. It can feel like whether your bub sleeps or not is a marker of how you are performing as a new parent. Unfortunately, now the questions and also expectations around baby sleep follow you to the comfort of your own bed.

Once you type anything about infant sleep into your search bar, you are likely to get a barrage of targeted ads for baby sleep consultants and sleep programs. We have been there, the tracking of wake windows, putting up black out curtains and purchasing your third white noise machine (this time it has red light which will apparently produce melatonin and help with sleep too….). You will do anything you can to get a bit more rest.

So how about solids and sleep? Is there anything you can do to help with sleep? Is there anything you need to avoid?

Here are some of the things we commonly hear and see about solids and sleep:

  • Don’t feed your baby protein before bed
  • Don’t introduce solids or have big meals at night
  • Give your baby formula before bed to help them sleep through
  • Add in infant rice cereal to bottles to help them sleep
  • Use tryptophane rich foods to promote sleep

Not a single one of these has any evidence that is good enough for a qualified health provider to recommend them as a way to improve sleep.

In general, starting solids does not influence your baby’s sleep. For some, starting solids might cause some short-term changes to sleep as the gut is getting used to digesting solid food and not just milk for the first time. Eating solids does also change the consistency of baby poo as things like fibre are introduced to the bowel. With solids, poo becomes more formed and less runny. For some bubs, an increase in the amount of solid food they are having can result in constipation and related discomfort. This can impact your bubs sleep and managing the constipation is an important step to take to help with this. However, for most babies any change in sleep should be temporary or non-existent.

As always there is the exception to the rule. Babies with food allergies, reflux and intolerances are one such exception and they can experience significant sleep issues when they start solids. These bubs, for examples those with a cow’s milk protein allergy, often have a history of being very unsettled and poor sleepers. They are also more likely to suffer from constipation when introducing foods. However, only 10% of babies have a diagnosed food allergy in Australia so again, it is not a common problem for most parents when introducing solids. If you are a parent struggling with allergies or reflux and sleep and want some support with solids reach out to your paediatrician and paediatric dietitian.

So, what is the real problem here?

There is a huge focus by society on improving your baby’s sleep, as if they are a problem to fix, instead of acknowledging that it is biologically normal for them to wake frequently. More time needs to be spent on supporting families and normalising infant sleep patterns instead of once again putting the responsibility of whether your bub is or isn’t sleeping on mum and dads’ shoulders.

There is of course a place for gentle and evidence-based sleep support for parents that need guidance and help with sleep, the problem is an unregulated sleep industry where some people use fear and false expectations around baby sleep to sell desperate parents a product.

If your bub is waking overnight this is likely normal. It doesn’t mean that it isn’t hard, sleep deprivation can feel impossible, but know that what you are doing when it comes to solids isn’t going to affect their sleep.