Can solids affect how well your baby sleeps?
Solids and sleep: Knowing where to begin
The introduction of solids into your baby’s diet can be a confusing process. There’s so much information and advice out there, and you can’t be entirely sure how your baby will react.
But it doesn’t have to be difficult!
The introduction of solids for your baby is the first time their bodies suddenly have to produce a range of new enzymes that are required to digest food. Combined with the production of new gut bacteria, it can be a strange time for your baby.
Their tummies will feel a bit weird, their bowel motions will change, and they might have more gas.
All of that doesn’t always add up to a good night’s sleep!
It’s a myth that your baby will start sleeping perfectly once they start solids.
Especially when you consider the fact that some children favour solids, so they eat too much volume-wise, they can certainly begin with a more uncomfortable sleeping experience.
It’s important to approach the introduction of solids into your baby’s diet with a little caution so you can minimise the impact it’ll have on their sleep.
With some preparation, it’s possible to do so!
Knowing what meal to start with
Often, it feels natural to start your baby off on solids for breakfast. After all, it’s the first meal of the day.
However, offering breakfast first can be the start of a solids and milk imbalance that keeps your baby awake at night. If your baby isn’t getting the milk they need during the day, they’ll often be awake at night wanting a feed to make up for it.
I typically suggest starting with ‘lunch’ – which technically will happen around 11am after your baby’s morning milk feed.
This meal gives your baby plenty of time for their food to be at least partially digested by their nap, and there are several more hours for any reaction before their night sleep starts.
Foods to help a good night’s sleep
Eating the right solids plays a huge part in the way your baby sleeps and there are a few food groups you should aim to incorporate into your baby’s diet sooner rather than later to help your child get more restful and restorative zzzzzzzs.
For starters, foods rich in tryptophan and B vitamins aid the production of the sleep-supporting transmitters serotonin and melatonin. Poultry, bananas, kidney beans, eggs and dairy products are all great sources of this nutrient.
Ensuring your child is eating plenty of protein throughout the day also helps them to sleep soundly. Protein is broken down slowly by the body, helping to maintain the body’s blood sugar levels and preventing night-time wake ups.
Calcium is a natural muscle relaxant and has a calming effect on the central nervous system, both of help with a more restorative sleep. Great sources of calcium for your bubba include dairy products, tinned salmon or sardines, leafy green vegetables, tofu, broccoli and almonds.
Magnesium is also a great muscle relaxant and can be found in leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds, beans, lentils, brown rice, quinoa, avocado, bananas and dairy products.
Finally, iron is another essential to include in your baby’s diet – whether by way of lean red meat, green leafy vegetables, beans, tofu, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds or fortified cereals.
I find that when it comes to ensuring your child is getting all the necessary vitamins and nutrients, homemade food is the best. While commercially prepared baby foods are helpful at times, it pays not to be completely reliant om them. A baby should ideally have some good, wholesome home-cooked meals as well.
I once worked with a baby named Zoe, who was 12 months old and still woke at night for at least two bottles.
She and Mum were both over it!
Zoe really loved her ready-made food pouches and had one at each meal as well as chopped up fruit and finger food.
To get Zoe sleeping through the night, we gave her diet an overhaul; she needed more protein and carbohydrates, as well as a wider variety of foods throughout the day.
Within a week of the diet, and accompanying sleep routine timing changes, Zoe was sleeping right through!
This backs up the fact that some simple diet changes can a big difference to our little people’s sleep.
Foods to avoid while introducing solids
As well as foods to include, there are other foods that can trigger pretty negative reactions when it comes to sleep – particularly foods that are difficult for developing tummies to digest.
Raw banana and avocado are full of complex fats/carbs that can be tricky to digest, so might be better saved for later on your baby’s solids journey. consider these a stage 2 food.
Quinoa is another potentially difficult one – while it’s gaining traction as an immensely healthy food, it is very fibrous and difficult for wee ones to digest.
Additionally, older children can have their sleep disturbed by bowel motions while sleeping. This can happen when your child’s diet is rich in fibrous foods. It’s best to limit foods like bliss balls, dried fruit and green smoothies.
It’s also important to remember that baby’s need carbohydrates to both have energy and also to get a good night’s sleep – so their bodies won’t appreciate a meal plan low-carb or diet food based!
They also need more than an entire ‘meal’ of pear, pumpkin, courgette or carrot.
Consider each meal you’re giving your baby and ensure it is balanced with some sort of carbohydrate – at first this might be baby rice, sweet potato or oats, and later on it might be quinoa, rice, pasta or potatoes.
All in all, it’s best not to rush the process of introducing solids and give your baby more than they can handle.
Take your time, enjoy the process, and think about any food from the point of view of your wee one and their digestion!
It’s all about the timing
No matter what solids you have your baby trying, the timing of eating is perhaps even more important than the eating itself.
While milk is fine to have right before bed, solids are much harder for children to digest so can wreak havoc when it’s time to sleep.
Start your solids at least one hour before you know you will put your baby to bed – whether that’s during the day or in the evening.
Getting it right
Understanding your baby and their digestion can take a little time, so it’s important to have patience during the process while you both figure out what works best. Getting the timing right, as well as starting with the ideal meal is a great place to start.
It can see fraught, but also try to remember that introducing solids is exciting!
It marks the beginning of a fun journey of watching your child be introduced to a whole new world of flavours, textures and taste.
Emma is the owner and founder of Baby Sleep Consultant, she is a certified infant and child sleep consultant, Happiest Baby on the block educator, has a Bachelor of Science, and Diploma in Education.
Emma is a mother to 3 children, and loves writing when she isn't working with tired clients and cheering on her team helping thousands of mums just like you.