Ann Fernholm

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Do Solid Foods Help Babies Sleep?

For a number of years, parents have been told that babies should be solely breastfed until six months of age. But now, new research shows that children sleep better if they start eating solid foods earlier.

In my book, Smakäventyret: att lära små barn äta mat (a book about introducing food to children), I devote a chapter to the exciting research that suggests that allergies can be prevented if babies are allowed to start eating solid foods early. British researchers, for example, have conducted a large and well-designed study that establishes that the risk of peanut allergy may decrease to one-seventh if the child eats small doses of peanut protein, such as peanut butter, regularly already in the first year of life. The results are astonishing, and it gives good reason to suspect that parents have received recommendations that have been directly harmful to their children. Parents are often told that babies at high risk of allergy should avoid eating foods that may cause an allergic reaction.

Allergies can be prevented

Since the release of Smakäventyret, there have been several similar studies confirming that early food introduction can protect against allergy. In one of these studies, called EAT, babies ate small doses of peanuts, eggs, milk, sesame, fish and wheat from the age of three months. Many babies had difficulty eating food that early, but among those who managed, the risk of allergy decreased to about a third (primarily the risk of becoming allergic to peanuts and eggs).

Babies given solid food early sleep better

Researchers have also discovered that the babies who started solids early in the EAT study slept longer and woke less frequently. At six months of age, babies in the early solids group slept for an average of 17 minutes longer than those who were only just starting solids. Serious sleep problems were also twice as common in the group of babies that began eating solids later. The results were published this summer. Here’s an article about it from the New York Times: For Babies, Solid Food at 3 Months May Lead To Sounder Sleep.

CONCLUSION: If you have a small baby at home, there are really no reason to wait to introduce solid foods. For various reasons (research for an upcoming book), I’m in close contact with the speech and language therapist Kajsa Lamm Laurin. She is an expert on children’s oral motor development and she believes it’s too early to start introducing solids already at three months, as they have difficulty moving and controlling the tongue and the jaw. But if a four-month-old child is showing interest in foods – go for it! The consistency should initially be thin, but as your baby gets used to more texture, you can gradually decrease the amount of liquid used. By the age of six months, the oral motor skills have often developed enough to manage more solid foods.

That’s enough for today. Time to get back in the swing of things and finish that book.

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