Whether you're ready for it or not, your baby will eventually grow into a toddler. As your little one grows, their appetite will change as well, and introducing your baby to solid foods is part and parcel of the parenting process. But what if there was actually a considerable benefit to getting your baby started on solid foods earlier?
The Solid Food Debate For Babies
Every good mom or dad knows that their baby needs to be provided with optimum nutrition to stay healthy and strong. However, there's considerable disagreement as to how exactly this feat should be accomplished.
Some parents assert that sticking to organic formula or breastmilk is the best way to provide for their babies. They point to evidence that suggests that babies certainly aren't ready for food until they are at least four months old, and some go so far as to say that solid foods are a bad idea if your baby has been in the world for less than 9 months.
However, other parents and medical scientists believe that getting your baby started on solid foods earlier than the norm is beneficial. It's true that a baby's digestive tract isn't ready to handle solid food for the first couple months of life, but some experts advocate starting with solids at around the 3-month mark. Does making this choice have any benefits, and if so, why?
What Does the Science Say About Feeding Your Baby Solids?
According to a recent study published in JAMA, feeding your baby solids at an early age can actually help them sleep better. To come to this tentative conclusion, the authors of this study performed a randomized clinical study that involved 1303 infants who were 3 months old. Some of these infants were introduced to solids earlier than is normal, and it was found that they slept better than the infants in the control group.
This study was inspired by the fact that 75% of British mothers start feeding their babies before 5 months. When asked why they made this feeding choice, the mothers related how starting their babies on solids early seemed to help with their sleeping habits. Not only did the authors of this study find that starting early with solids helped normal babies sleep better, but they also found that eating solid foods helped babies with serious sleep problems get better rest.
This study leads us down some previously unexplored paths regarding infant nutrition, and it also serves as a ray of hope for parents of babies with sleep issues. Some sleep-deprived parents who have been pushed past the point of desperation are tempted to resort to sedatives or other pharmaceutical solutions. However, it seems like there might be an easier and much safer solution near at hand for these parents in need.
What Are the Best Baby Foods for Improved Sleep?
The authors of this study did not, however, find that babies slept better when fed one type of food over another. It appears that there is no reason to rush to get your infant to try finger foods and that starting with time-honored mushy options is just as good. Babies have loved mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes since time immemorial, and mashed parsnips and carrots are also good choices.
Some fruits, such as peaches, nectarines, or melons, are already soft enough for babies to eat without any type of preparation. Bananas and avocados are further examples of baby-ready soft fruits, but you can always puree these fruits in a blender or food processor if you want to make them as digestible as possible.
When teaching your baby how to eat, it's best to provide as much variety as possible, so you shouldn't be afraid to put together a diverse menu for your little one. Ground meats are guaranteed baby-pleasers, and you can also try cooked lentils or buckwheat. When you're ready to move on to finger foods, just remember to cut your baby's food into long strips until they develop the pincer grip that will allow them to grasp smaller bites.
What Are Some Other Tips for Healthy Sleep?
The recent study in JAMA seemingly confirms the conventional wisdom that feeding your baby real food earlier can help them sleep better. However, it's entirely possible that simply increasing the amount of milk or formula you feed to your baby could provide the same results. The experts are divided on this issue.
The evidence certainly isn't conclusive at this stage, and more research will have to be done to establish whether or not it's better to feed babies solids earlier in general. However, if your baby is having trouble sleeping and you don't know what to do, you may want to seriously consider giving them their first bite a little earlier than you had originally planned.