Starting solids can be and exciting time for you and your baby. It’s fun to introduce them to the wide world of food. Some babies are interested in food early on, and others take a little longer to excite their palates! For parents it can be a busy stage with new things to learn and a lot of information to take in.
Let’s talk about the relationship between food and sleep. I won’t be talking specifically about the process of starting solids (that’s for a nutritionist) but more about the things you need to be aware of in relation to how solids can affect sleep. Often, making small adjustments to your child’s diet can make a huge difference to their sleeping. So here’s what you need to know.
Big changes to digestion when babies start solids:
When we first start introducing foods to our babies’ diets, it is the first time they have eaten anything other than milk. Many mums will notice that around this time their babies sleep can start to regress or change and they wonder why. Maybe you’ve noticed that your baby is experiencing more wind or gas when they previously had not.
When babies are exclusively breast or formula fed, the only enzymes that they need to produce are ones to digest breast milk or formula. For most babies milk is quite a simple food for them to digest. When we start to introduce solids our baby’s gut has to produce a whole range of new enzymes in order to digest these solids. Unsurprisingly, this can feel a little strange! This shift in the digestive process can feel completely new and take some getting used too. Not only do digestive enzymes change, the gut bacteria is also rapidly changing, further compounding that strange new feeling. And for some babies, it can disrupt sleep.
Starting solids early as a method of helping sleep rarely works for this reason. At four months poor sleep is much more likely a result of other things, like the 4-month-sleep-regression, for example. Starting solids to ‘help them sleep’ and expecting their immature gut to handle all the new feelings that come with digesting food will further disturb their sleep! So don’t rush the starting solids process (unless you medically need to).
Foods that help our babies and toddlers sleep:
There are some foods and food groups that can really help support their sleep. This isn’t as impactful when you’re just starting out with solids but from 9 months plus, and especially toddlers, it can make a significant difference. Toddlers are notoriously fussy with food and when they lack essential vitamins and minerals it can start to affect their sleep. Let’s look at the good stuff.
Foods rich in Tryptophan: Tryptophan is a molecule which is found in certain foods which aids the neurotransmitters associated with sleep. Foods that are high in tryptophan are chicken and turkey, legumes, eggs and dairy. It’s important to have a look at their diet and see where you can be adding in these sorts of foods.
Protein: Super important for sleep. Not enough protein can cause hypoglycemic dips overnight, which can cause adrenaline to be produced, which further inhibits sleep. Ultimately protein is very sustaining and allows blood sugar levels to remain stable for longer.
I always recommend a solid lunch which contains good amounts of protein. As your baby grows, say from at least 9 months, they start to get busier and busier. Toddlers, in particular, are super busy. Therefore, a lunch with good amounts of protein will keep them sustained and energised for the afternoon.
Protein at dinner is fine as well (from about 9 months) but the reason I put a lot of emphasis on having protein at lunchtime is because toddlers can be very tired by dinner time and getting a nutritious meal into them can be near on impossible. Sometimes all they want to eat is just a piece of toast and yoghurt! They are tired and fussy at this time of night so offer the most nutritional meal at lunchtime. Just the fact that it’s earlier in the day will give you a good chance of getting it into them.
Casseroles are great for packing in the protein. You can make beef, lamb, chicken, fish casseroles and the meat is soft and easy for them to eat and a great way of ensuring optimal protein levels. Eggs any and every way are fantastic. And finger foods such as soft meatballs that they can feed themselves work wonders. Greek yoghurt contains good amounts of protein as well.
A word about minerals
Finally, let’s look at the basic minerals in our little one’s diets. If they are deficient in some of these minerals, then their sleep can become distrurbed. I’m talking about zinc, magnesium, iron, calcium and omega 3. Just making sure these minerals are covered in your baby and toddlers diet will help with their sleep.
Magnesium is particularly helpful if your toddler has restless legs when they are trying to go to sleep. The magnesium will help their muscles to relax and it will aid sleep. Look to green vegetables, legumes, salmon and tuna for lots of magnesium.
Low amounts of zinc can also be related to restlessness. So be sure to include some meat, nuts and seeds. Legumes, lentils, beans and dairy also contain good amounts of zinc.
Lastly, omega three is associated with the brain and sleep, and is found it fish. Tuna and salmon patties are a great way to start your little ones eating some fish.
The journey of starting your baby on solids is an exciting one. There will be ups and downs and times of food refusal and fussiness. But knowing the foods that we should be including allows us to plan some simple and tasty meals for our children, giving them the best possible nutrition for optimal sleep.
How did you find the process of introducing solids? Did it affect your little one’s sleep?