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Do babies need solid foods to sleep?

Posted: Babies & Toddlers » Breastfeeding » Babies & Sleep » Problems » Feeding Solids | November 1st, 2005



Question: My 30-year-old daughter has a beautiful 9-month-old baby girl. Mom does not want to feed her any grains, no sugar, no salt. She has just now started her on some fruits. Mom keeps calling me and asking what she can do to get baby to sleep through the night. Previously baby was sleeping about five hours. I think that she needs more solid foods, and my daughter insists that babies cannot digest food this early. Can you help?

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Linda Folden Palmer answers: I assume baby is breastfeeding? If baby is formula-feeding, then iron-fortified foods are very important by this age, and fruits and vegetables make up for many of the nutrients that are so hard to get from formula.

Exclusively breastfed babies should be nutritionally sound at this age. However, once they begin eating their first foods, iron coming into their diets makes the iron (lactoferrin) they get from their mothers’ milk less accessible. Also, the dietary iron feeds the more dangerous (more adult) bacteria now allowed to take hold in their intestines. The net result is that there is less iron for babies to absorb.

I’m not saying this is bad — breastfeeding babies all need to make the transition to foods some day, obviously. What I’m saying is that there are some breastfed babies who get a little anemic when they first begin to eat solid foods, if their first foods are not either completely void of iron (hard to do) or very high in iron.

So what should babies eat? Meats are great. Also try dark greens, apricots, prunes and iron-fortified cereals. But remember that the iron-fortified cereals aren’t strictly necessary. Grains are more a negative than a positive in many ways at this age, considering many babies’ difficulty digesting gluten, the potential for increasing allergies, and poor nutrient balances in cereals as well as their high carbohydrate content.

There is no need for sugar or salt — these only set up babies’ palates for a preference for these things. If Mom wants her baby to be at lower risk for heart disease, diabetes and cancer, then it’s a good idea to avoid starting these things so soon.

It’s not natural, however, for a naturally fed (breastfed) baby to sleep through the night at such a young age. It sounds as though Mom’s wanting to go with the healthiest and most natural choices; if so, she needs to accept the whole package. Sleeping through the night at this age isn’t best or healthiest for a 9-month-old breastfed baby. If she keeps her baby in or very near the bed, night feedings shouldn’t be too much effort. You can help by reminding her that baby is only small for a very short period of time!

If your daughter’s baby is formula fed, things will be a little different. Formula is very difficult for babies to digest and absorb. It takes a long time and it tires baby. This is why formula-fed babies (those who are not having intolerance reactions to the milk proteins) sleep for longer periods. They are often left to cry longer while preparing bottles or following schedules, as well, tiring them out.

If Mom wants to imitate this longer sleeping pattern, she can try filling baby before bed. Grains, while being lower in valuable nutrients, are higher in calories. This is the common lore as to what works — and it might. Fats and proteins are typically more satiating, however, and it would make sense that these would actually satisfy baby longer during the night. Foods such as walnut butter (for protein, iron and omega-3 fatty acids) and egg yolks (although the whites are potential allergens) that have important kinds of fats as well as protein, iron and other good nutrients; soy yogurt or tofu; and baby food meats would be more likely to satisfy baby longer, provide better nutrition and could help her sleep for longer periods.

I may not have touched totally on your grand-daughter’s food digestion ability. Baby’s stools will tell you whether baby is digesting well. If you feed baby bananas and you see little wormy-looking things in the stools, then baby is not digesting. If pieces of the stools look like they did when they went in the mouth, then they’re not digested. By 9 months, digestion is pretty good usually, if food is pureed or baby is chewing it well (although it’s usually a little early for that at this age). The maturity of baby’s teeth might be another clue.

Food is supposed to be for nutrition, and it sounds as though mom and baby are doing fine. Every baby has her own pace with solid food introduction, and moms have their own preferences — but mom’s instincts and observations are usually the most powerful tool.

There’s one more possibility to watch for as far as early foods and sleeping patterns. If the baby is sleeping less than before, she could be reacting to some of the solid foods being introduced and having an unhappy tummy at night. Mom will want to watch for this. Dairy is the most common offender, but any food can do it. It also takes time for baby’s system to adjust to the new adult flora developing. The immune system is very active at this time, and small flora imbalances can upset baby at night . Try giving acidophilus or soy yogurt to help balance her intestinal flora.

Your grand-daughter sounds like a lucky baby to have these great moms who care so much!

© Linda Folden Palmer

Dr. Linda Folden Palmer consults and lectures on natural infant health, optimal child nutrition and attachment parenting. After running a successful chiropractic practice focused on nutrition and women’s health for more than a decade, Linda’s life became transformed eight years ago by the birth of her son. Her research into his particular health challenges led her to write Baby Matters: What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Caring for Your Baby. Extensively documented, this healthy parenting book presents the scientific evidence behind attachment parenting practices, supporting baby’s immune system, preventing colic and sparing drug usage. You can visit Linda’s web site at Babyreference.com.

3 Responses to “Do babies need solid foods to sleep?”

1 publisher says:

We’re always told they need solids to sleep! Thanks for the great information, Linda.

2 Mom of Six says:

Wow. This simply hasn’t been my experience. We have had six children (with the seventh due in eight weeks) and all have been breastfed on a loose schedule, meaning they weren’t demand-fed but were nursed every two-four hours, depending upon their age and needs. All six slept through the night (eight- twelve hours) by twelve weeks. All had normal weight gain. The last three began solids around six months, beginning with fresh avocados.

I realize anecdotal evidence isn’t always helpful, but in our experience, babies DO sleep through the night while exclusively breastfed. But we also work at training them to sleep well and we think they’re happier babies because of it.

3 DK says:

Well, I know Im a little late here but my son is breastfed and has been sleeping through the night since birth. Until 2 1/2 months I woke him up every 4 hours but this started making him sleep until noon when he went to bed at 8:30. I let him go and he has been perfect since. BTW he is COMPLETELY demand fed and has put HIMSELF on a schedule. I would never force anything on my poor little baby like depriving him of food so I wont be “inconvienenced”

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