From around the age of six months, most babies are ready to try some solid food. Although this initial period is more about new tastes and textures than sitting down to a three course meal, it is an important time for every family. An exciting adventure awaits your baby as she realises there is more to life than milk! Any time from around twelve months or so, your baby will be starting to wean from milk to a point where most of her nutrition now comes from food rather than milk. It’s still recommended that babies and toddlers are able to drink lots of milk too, but from this age it does not provide enough nourishment by itself. So weaning is a big deal! But how does it affect sleep? Lots of families experiences changes in sleeping patterns when new things are introduced, and especially when it comes to food. So here are some hints and tips to help you negotiate the mine field that can be weaning and sleep.
How weaning can affect sleep
When babies first start to taste new foods, they are still really only exploring. As a result, they won’t actually consume that much food at first, but that doesn’t mean their bodes aren’t affected by it. Remember these tiny tummies have only ever been asked to digest milk before now, so introducing foods to the diet can have a huge impact. Tiny digestive systems are suddenly being asked to work on solid foods rather than the milk they’re used to, and for some babies this can result in tummy ache, constipation and/ or wind. If this occurs, it goes without saying that sleep can be affected. Here are some tips to help:
- Introduce new foods one at a time, and leave three days between one new food and the next. This will allow you time to spot any reactions that your baby may have towards that food. Note down anything you notice.
- Introduce new foods in the morning, rather than late afternoon or evening. This way, if that food is going to give your baby wind or tummy pain, there’s a really good chance that all of that will pass before bedtime, and won’t affect night time sleep.
- If your baby experiences constipation when you start to wean, try baby massage at the end of the day to help the digestive system along. Alternatively, try cycling the legs to ease discomfort.
- Avoid giving your baby a big meal in the late afternoon/ evening. The bigger the meal, the more the body has to work to digest it. Large meals also increase the metabolic rate and your baby’s body temperature will increase- both of which makes sleeping a lot harder.
- Avoid sending your baby to bed with an empty tummy- hunger can make sleep difficult too.
- Aim to give lots of small snacks through the day rather than three large meals.
Once your baby has settled into a new routine that involves food, you’ll quickly see what needs to be removed from the menu, or swapped to lunchtime rather than dinner time.
Foods that can affect sleep
Foods can directly influence sleep for us all and what we eat during the day can sometimes have a huge affect on night time sleep. Some foods stimulate the body to the point where we find it harder to get to sleep; they do this by producing energy that helps to keep us going a little bit longer. Other foods produce chemicals that can make us sleepy.
Tryptophan is a substance that some foods contain, which makes a brain chemical called Serotonin. Melatonin is created from this hormone, and it is the latter which helps to induce sleep.
So foods that are rich in Tryptophan can help children to sleep better, as long as they are consumed with healthy carbohydrates which release insulin in the body so that trytophan can work it’s magic. These foods include:
- Nuts such as almonds, cashews and walnuts.
- Poultry, in particular turkey
- Dairy products – cheeses such as cheddar, gruyere and Swiss cheese have particularly high amounts of tryptophan
- Green leafy vegetables such as cabbage and spinach
- Tofu and soya products
Weaning is a wonderful adventure in many ways; hopefully you can make the adjustment without too much sleep being affected!