For Babies, Solid Food at 3 Months May Lead to Sounder Sleep

Babies who got solid food early were sleeping 17 minutes longer per night than those that had breast-fed through 6 months of age.

Nicholas Bakalar

Parenting experts typically say six months of exclusive breast-feeding is ideal, but many new mothers also suspect that offering some solid food after about three months can assure a good night’s sleep for both themselves and their babies. A new study confirms their suspicions.

British researchers randomized 1,303 mother-infant pairs to either exclusive breast-feeding for six months or the introduction of solid foods starting at three months. The early food group continued to breast-feed while introducing both allergenic and nonallergenic solid foods. Parents filled out standardized questionnaires about their infants’ sleeping habits and their own quality of life.

At 6 months of age, babies who had gotten solid food early were sleeping 17 minutes longer per night, or about two additional hours of sleep a week, and their waking frequency was 9.1 percent lower than babies who had exclusively breast-fed. Parents who had exclusively breast-fed were also more likely to report serious sleep problems in their children.

The differences in sleep behavior were still present at one year, even though by that age all the babies were eating solid food in roughly the same quantities.