Babies who are given solid food after three months are able to sleep better than those who stick with an exclusively breastmilk diet after that time, a new study suggests.
1303 babies of three months old took part in this research, and they were divided into 2 groups.
More than 1300 healthy breastfed three-month-olds were split randomly into two groups in one the babies were exclusively breastfed until they were six months old - as current guidelines recommend - while children in the other group were breastfed and given solid foods, including peanuts, eggs and wheat, from the age of three months, in addition to breastfeeding.
"We believe the most likely explanation for our findings of improved sleep is that that these babies are less hungry" said Lack, adding that solid foods might mean less regurgitation or greater feelings of being full.
The differences between the groups peaked at six months, with the group fed solids early sleeping for a quarter of an hour longer per night (almost two hours longer per week) and waking less frequently - 1.74 times a night rather than twice a night. But this study will certainly spark a larger debate on when to introduce solids and hopefully lead to further research to help tease it out.
Michael Perkin, of the Population Health Research Institute and St George's Hospital, both in London, said results from the new analysis suggest that better sleep could be another benefit of starting solids early. The EAT study showed that introducing small amounts of allergenic foods to younger babies helped reduce food allergy risks.
And the better babies sleep, the better their parents' quality of life and mental health. Infants who started solids early also woke up about 9% less often.
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In the study, in JAMA Pediatrics, giving solids earlier than six months had benefits for mum and baby.
"When it comes to the recommendations for mothers and their children, I think it's still important to try to aim for exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months", he added. "This is quite a well-designed study to actually answer that particular question", he said.
Responding to the study, Prof Mary Fewtrell, nutrition lead at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, pointed out that guidelines for infant feeding are now being reviewed.
'However, the evidence base for the existing advice on exclusive breastfeeding is over ten years old, and is now being reviewed in the United Kingdom by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition and in the EU by the European Food Safety Authority.
Despite the official piece of advice, about 75% of mothers gave solid food to their babies before five months - 26% of the babies were waking up at night frequently because of this reason.
"We expect to see updated recommendations on infant feeding in the not too distant future". If there is any doubt about what's best for your baby, please seek advice from your doctor or health professional'.