Sleepless, exhausted parents will do just about anything to get a few more hours (or maybe even a few more minutes!) of sleep each night. And as followers of this site know, there’s no shortage of advice out there on how to do just this. Everyone from your grandmother to your next door neighbor has probably offered you advice that’s “guaranteed” to get your baby sleeping well.
Here’s a piece of advice many tired parents have heard at some point: “Just start feeding him rice cereal, and he’ll sleep all night long!” Sound familiar? I’m betting it does.
So is there any truth to this? Can starting solids really help your baby sleep longer and better? Let’s investigate.
Will Starting Solids Help Baby Sleep?
Short answer: probably not. There’s no evidence that starting solids helps a baby sleep any better than she did before. In fact, a 2010 study suggests that starting solids before the age of 4 months may actually disrupt sleeping! This study revealed that babies who began eating cereal before 4 months of age slept half an hour less each day than infants who weren’t eating cereal.
Keep in mind that the recommended age for starting solids has changed in the past few years. Now, the American Academy of Pediatrics (along with many other health organizations) recommends starting solids closer to 6 months of age. Researchers have found that waiting to begin solids until 6 months protects babies from a whole host of complications, including illness, food allergies, iron deficiency, and future obesity.
The logic behind the assumption that starting solids will improve sleep is easy to trace. It seems to make sense that offering your baby a big dish of rice cereal will fill her up and keep her full all night long. And if she’s full, she won’t wake up in the middle of the night crying, right? Perfect! Cereal = 10 straight hours of sleep. Problem solved.
If only the equation for a good night’s sleep were as simple as that!
It’s not, though. Not exactly. It’s true that hunger is one reason babies wake up during the night and cry. This is especially true for newborns, who need to eat at least every 3 hours. So if the only reason your baby is waking at night is because he’s hungry, then starting solids will likely help improve his sleep and get him sleeping for longer stretches at night.
But (as any parent who’s cross-eyed with exhaustion can tell you) hunger isn’t the only reason a baby wakes at night — far from it. Many babies sleep poorly at night due to sleep associations, or perhaps because they’re experiencing a sleep regression. In these cases, hunger has nothing to do with a baby’s night waking.
Keep in mind too that as babies grow, they need fewer and fewer nighttime feeds. By 4 months, most babies need 1-3 nighttime feedings; by 6 months, (the earliest age that experts recommend starting solids), that number drops to 1-2. Keep in mind, this is provided your baby is receiving all of their necessary daytime calories! So if your baby is waking frequently during the night, the problem probably isn’t hunger (or at least, it’s not just hunger). And that’s why there’s no actual link between feeding your baby solids and having him sleep better. If he isn’t sleeping well, it’s probably because he’s formed bad sleep habits, not because he’s constantly hungry.
Picture it this way: imagine that you have a terrible cold, and your sniffling and sneezing wakes both you and your partner a few times every night. Now, imagine that after three or four sleepless nights, your partner proposes a solution — he (or she) thinks that if you’d just eat two helpings of everything at dinner, you’d be nice and full before bed, and that would surely help you sleep all night long. Wouldn’t work, would it? Because your problem isn’t hunger — it’s illness. You don’t need food — you need medicine or for your body to recover from your illness. As parents, our goal is to uncover our babies’ actual sleep problems and then offer the right solutions.
The equation isn’t as simple as solids = sleep. Our babies are bound to throw in one or two (or three…or four…) variables that make the problem a whole lot harder to solve. Fortunately, you don’t have to solve it all by yourself! Let The Baby Sleep Site help do the math with you. 🙂 Your consultant will craft a Personalized Sleep Plan® that accounts for your child’s unique temperament and sleep challenges, as well as your parenting philosophy.
Once you select your package, you’ll immediately receive an email with your Helpdesk login credentials. From there, you can set up your account, complete a profile of each child in your family, outline your sleep issues as well as any particulars about breastfeeding, and send them straight to your consultant. Within a few days, you’ll receive your Personalized Sleep Plan™, and will work closely with your consultant to implement it.
Solids may not help your baby sleep – but we can! Share your sleep questions below, and we’ll answer!
Our Members Area is packed with exclusive content and resources: e-Books, assessments, detailed case studies, expert advice, peer support, and more. It actually costs less to join than buying products separately! As a member, you’ll also enjoy a weekly chat with an expert sleep consultant. And the best part – members receive 20% off all sleep consultation services!
Essential Keys to Your Newborn’s Sleep is THE newborn sleep book that will help you to not only improve your newborn’s sleep using gentle, sleep-inducing routines – it will also answer your feeding and newborn care questions. You can even buy a bundle package that includes the e-book AND a Personalized Sleep Plan™ PLUS a follow-up email to use for further support!
For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3 Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep. Using the same unique approach and practical tools for success, this e-book helps you and your baby sleep through the night.
If you’re looking for ways to get your baby or toddler into a healthy sleeping routine during the day, I encourage you to explore Mastering Naps and Schedules, a comprehensive guide to napping routines, nap transitions, and all the other important “how-tos” of good baby sleep. With over 45 sample sleep schedules and planning worksheets, Mastering Naps and Schedules is a hands-on tool ideal for any parenting style.
For those persistent toddler sleep struggles, check out The 5 Step System to Help Your Toddler Sleep. Using the same unique approach and practical tools for success, this e-book helps you and your toddler sleep through the night and enjoy a better daytime schedule.