Introducing Solid Foods At This Age May Help Your Baby Sleep Better, New Research Finds

Unless you're blessed with one of those rare babies who drifts off to sleep without a fuss, all by themselves, in their own crib, then you probably know the struggle of child-induced sleep deprivation. And man, can those first few months — and sometimes up to a year or more — be brutal. Because some babies demand mom or dad being near (or even holding them) in order to fall asleep, and then wake up every few hours for physical reassurance (like breastmilk and/or snuggles,) sleep can be hard to come by for both the child and parents. However, new research has provided a little insight into what could help your little one stay asleep longer at night. As it turns out, feeding your baby solid foods earlier may help them sleep more soundly and longer, according to a new study,

A study published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics revealed that introducing an infant to solid baby food after 3 months of age was associated with a small improvement in nighttime sleep — including slightly fewer wakings — when compared to babies who began eating solids later, the BBC reported. According to senior author of the study Dr. Gideon Lack, as CNN reported, the most important finding was a more than 50 percent "reduction in the number of families reporting severe sleep disturbances in their babies."

The study — conducted by King's College in London and St. George's, University of London — was planning a study examining how allergies developed in babies (called the Enquiring About Tolerance or EAT study) when Lack and his co-authors made the decision to look at the connection between infant diets and sleep habits. "Lack of sleep can be pretty devastating for babies and their families," Lack said, according to CNN. "Right from the start," said Lack, "we embedded into the structure of the study very detailed, validated questionnaires that assess sleep."

The study — which included more than 1,300 babies in England and Wales between 2009 and 2012 — specifically looked at 3-month-old infants who were all healthy, born full-term, and exclusively breastfed, according to JAMA Pediatrics. Researchers split the moms into two groups: One that was asked to exclusively breastfeed their babies until 6 months of age, and one that was asked to continued breastfeeding and also introduce solid foods for the first week of the study (at age 3 months,) and then include six items usually linked to allergies, according to the journal. These six allergy-related foods included peanuts, cow's milk, hen's eggs, sesame, white fish, and wheat.

Next, the research team collected data about the babies every month until 1 year of age, and then every three months after that until the babies were 3.

Researchers noted that, on average, moms in the first group introduced solids at 23 weeks, while moms in the second group introduced them at 16 weeks, CNN reported. However, there was no real difference soon after the 6-month mark, in respect to solid foods. What was different, though, was the babies' sleep. Infants who ate solid foods earlier slept longer — on average, seven minutes longer — from age 5 months past 1 year, without no daytime sleeping differences, according to CNN. And once the sleep times were adjusted for factors associated with sleep duration, "the sleep difference is more on the order of 16 or 17 minutes a night which correlates to about 2 hours extra sleep a week," Lack pointed out, according to the study. What's more is parents of babies who started solids earlier also reported fewer very serious sleep issues than parents in the first group, according to the research.

This study is significant because although starting solids sooner has traditionally been thought to help babies sleep longer, the research just wasn't there. Not to mention, the current recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months. Of course, every baby and parent is different. Additionally, according to BabyCenter, many pediatricians will give parents the go-ahead for introducing solids between 4 and 6 months, if their baby is showing signs of readiness. So it all depends on the needs and preferences of each family and their infant. It's also worth pointing out that an extra two hours of sleep per week may not sound like a lot — but to exhausted parents, every little bit helps.