Will Starting Solids Help Your Baby Sleep?

Will Starting Solids Help Your Baby Sleep

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. This can include illnesses, 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 that 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.) 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 and caregivers, our goal is to uncover our babies’ actual sleep problems and then offer the right solutions. That may mean different things to different families, and that is okay too! We’re here to help no matter where you’re at!

Starting solids may not help your baby sleep – but we can!

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17 thoughts on “Will Starting Solids Help Your Baby Sleep?”

  1. Friends and family keep telling me that I should switch to formula before bed, and then my baby will sleep through the night. Have you any advice about this “suggestion”? I feel like they all think I’m crazy for continuing to breastfeed. My baby is 8 1/2 months old. She’s waking at least 4 times a night, so I’m pretty sure it’s not just because she’s hungry. However she doesn’t drink much expressed milk during the day while I’m at work, so I don’t want to stop feeding her at night if she’s hungry.

  2. Our 9.5-month-old definitely sleeps better when he’s had a good evening meal, with plenty of protein and good fats. He’s been gaining slowly and is a VERY distracted daytime nurser, so I still nurse him twice at night if he wakes (till the pediatrician tells us he’s gaining enough). But when he’s eaten well (solids) during the day, he will often only wake once to nurse. So while I don’t think solids solve every sleep issue, I do think they can help if you have a genuinely hungry kiddo.

  3. Hello!

    In my experience it did help a bit… My LO was waking up every 1/2 hr to feed at night between three and four months… I thought it might just be a fase, but after over a month i was just too exausted to continue like that…
    So I spoke to my lactation consultant and she agreed to give it a try.
    So i started giving him very watery (milky) rice and things did improve a bit…. He went from 1/2 hr to about 2hrs… Which was still exhausting, but definitely better.

    • @ Irene – I think the key thing as that you spoke to a lactation consultant first – that is a GREAT first step, and one that parents really should take if they’re offering solids before 5 months or so. Best to talk to a healthcare provider, and to make sure that the addition of solids doesn’t impact breastfeeding or formula feeding.

      Thanks so much for offering your take, and your perspective on this – very helpful! 🙂

  4. @ Wee — thanks for sharing your story! In general, you’re absolutely right; a baby’s sleeping issues are usually more complicated than parents realize at first, and so a “quick fix” like offering solids doesn’t usually fix the problem.

    @ Domestic Diva & Hansini Fonseka — thanks to you as well for sharing your stories, especially since you both seem to be the exception to the “rule” that solids doesn’t fix poor sleeping! In your cases, it sounds like you had babies who were truly waking out of hunger and a need to eat. For most of the babies we work with, the problem isn’t quite so straightforward, but I’m glad it was in both your cases!

    And Domestic Diva, you offer a good reminder: when discussing feeding of any kind (whether breast, formula, or solids), it’s important to remember that if you have any concerns about your child’s nourishment (either because he seems to be losing weight, or because she’s not pooping well, etc.), talk to a healthcare provider.

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