A new study suggests that infants who are introduced to solid foods at an early age might develop healthier sleep habits as they grow older.
The research was conducted by a UK-based team led by pediatric allergy specialist Dr. Gideon Lack. While the original focus was on allergy development in infants, the team decided to explore the relationship between diet and sleep instead. To do this, they enlisted 1,300 3-month-olds whose mother had been exclusively breastfeeding prior to the study. The mothers were then separated into two groups, one who continued to breastfeed until their kids turned 6 months and the other who began to introduce solid foods to supplement breast milk.
According to the World Health Organization, infants should be breastfed for the first 6 months of their lives. However, Dr. Lack’s study found that introducing solid foods to 3-month-old infants actually served to “decrease serious sleep problems,” suggesting swapping out breast milk could help infants develop healthier sleep habits into adolescence. None of the subjects had been diagnosed with sleep disorders, but Lack said that participants reported “small but significant improvements.”
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Topics of proper childcare are often hotly debated subjects, so to get another perspective on this study, I spoke to infant sleep expert Dr. Kristin Tully who is a Research Associate at Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute. She told me that this study “contrasts with what’s globally known to be optimal infant feeding” and that such research should “never have been conducted.”
“The study is striking and concerning,” she continued, “I’m surprised they received institutional approval to conduct this research starting at 3-months-old. We should be protecting vulnerable populations — especially new mothers and infants. This means a balancing of the whole family’s health, not going against what’s normal for our species.”