5 reasons why your baby's sleep can get worse when you start solids


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Many of us assume that once our baby starts solids it will be like a magic bullet, or maybe more precisely a magic sleeping table and our baby will start sleeping well.  

Unfortunately, that is not always the case. In fact sometimes  your baby's sleep can get worse when starting solids

There are 4 scenarios when it comes to baby sleep and starting solids

1. Your baby was sleeping well and continues to sleep well

2. Your baby was sleeping badly and now sleeps well

3. Your baby has never slept well and still isn't

4. Your baby was sleeping well and now isn't after starting solids

Baby sleep problems 5 reasons why your baby's sleep can get worse after starting solids

If you fall into category one or two, great. You can stop reading and go on about your day. If you fall into category three and four, it sucks doesn't it. Keep reading though, hopefully I can help.

The 5 reasons why your baby's sleep can get worse after starting solids

1. Timing of solids and baby sleep

It is important to consider timing when you offer solids. Solids are also called complementary foods.

This is because while your baby is still young, particularly under 9 months of age, the food we offer should complement or supplement their milk feeds (Breast milk or Formula) and not take away from it.  

To ensure the solids you are offering your baby are in addition of milk feeds and not replacing them, I recommend the following:

  1. Start with a milk feed
  2. Offer solids 30-60 minutes after the milk feed. I find it best to keep a short gap between milk and solids the younger a baby is, i.e when you start solids start with a short 30 minute gap, as bub gets older the gap can increase.
  3. Let your baby enjoy the food until they are content/full
  4. Don't offer more solids until after the next milk feed

2. Think quality not quantity

Have a think about the solids you are offering your baby. I often hear people gauging how their baby is doing on a quantity basis.

"She ate 3 tablespoons"

"He demolished an entire jar"

"She put away a full bowl"

Many of the traditional first foods offered to babies are very low in energy. Packed with vitamins yes, but lacking in calories/kilojoules.

Sometimes the food offered is filling little tummies but not contributing much to their energy intake.  Your baby could be taking in a big volume of food but not much in the way of extra energy, and if your timing is off (see above) they might be taking in less total energy.

This can result in extra night wake-ups for milk feeds as they didn't manage to get the energy intake they need during the daylight hours. The graphic below showing the relative energy density of common first foods might put this into perspective.

infographic showing the energy composition of first foods compared to breastmilk and formula, and why this can lead to baby sleep problems after starting solids
Some common first foods are not very energy dense


Keep the energy content of the foods you are offering in mind. The foods in the graphic above do not need to be avoided. Just be mindful that your baby is not always filling up on low energy foods.

  • Starchy vegetables such as Kumara/Sweet potato are loved by babies and have more calories than pumpkin.
  • If you are serving rice cereal make it up with milk, formula or expressed breast milk.
  • Avocado is a great way to boost the calorie content of the food you offer
  • Move on from single food meals, mix it up
  • Don't be afraid to add carbohydrates (starchy vege, rice, and grains) and proteins (meat, fish, chicken, legumes, lentils, full fat dairy, soy and nut butters) to your baby's diet

If you find your baby decreases their amount of milk feeds very quickly after starting solids then it is probably due to reasons 1 and 2. Ie Timing and Quantity vs Quality.

3. Curiosity

Most people start solids somewhere from 4-6 months of age. This coincides very nicely with the time your baby's curiosity levels start to increase.  

Feeding a curious kid (particularly breastfeeding) can be tough going. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. They pull on and off, drinking a bit then looking around at the world around them.  Feeding while out and about can be hard work. They are just too damned curious to feed well.

 This is not related to starting solids, it is just part of your baby's development. It can mean that they aren't taking enough milk in during the day so they wake during the night more often.  These strategies can help

  1. Try feeding your baby on waking: Sometimes they feed better when they are still in that just woken up dreamy phase
  2. Remove the distractions: Turn off the TV. Go to a quiet room. Try closing the curtains
  3. If you have been out and about and you aren't confident your baby has fed well then offer them another feed when you get home.

4. Bowels

Starting solids can be a bit of a 'shock' to the digestive system particularly for a breastfed baby. Their digestive system has never been exposed to other foods.

Their digestive system is designed to handle foods, but as with any drastic change in diet there can be some tummy upsets along the way. The 'shock' in reality should only be short-lived.  

As long as solids haven't been started too early the majority of babies digestive systems will cope well with solid foods. My earlier article covers off the what age to start a baby on solids. It is normal to see is a slowing in the frequency of bowel motions and some definite thickening of the bowel motions.

As your baby increases its solids intake their motions will become more and more formed, and typically more and more stinky!  This is not usually a cause for concern. At the start babies can find this change uncomfortable as it is unfamiliar.

If you are worried about your baby's bowels/digestion and they are having digestive issues which you feel might fall outside the normal range. Then please seek advice from a Healthcare Professional.

Once you start solids it is also time to start offering your baby water. Always offer water at meals and with snacks.

From a poo perspective some foods you offer will slow things down, and some will speed things up. If you are mindful of the amount of 'slow' and 'fast' foods you are offering each day it can help your baby cope with the changes in bowel habits.

starting solids, first foods that can affect your baby's bowels and subsequently sleep



5. It's nothing to do with nutrition

Developmental milestones

There are quite a number of babies whose sleep is troubled when they hit development milestones.

Becoming mobile can upset a babies sleeping patterns.

Again as with curiosity, this can coincide with the time you start solids. My general advice (not from any research just from my experience). Keep being consistent, they will get there.

Lack of sleep skills

If your baby has never slept well, and continues to sleep poorly after the introduction of solids, and this poor sleep is causing you concern. It might be time to have a think about why your baby is not sleeping well.

A lot of it is to do with how they get to sleep, and how much 'help' they need from you.  Unfortunately, there is not usually a magic bullet that will make the difference, if your baby doesn't have the skills necessary to sleep, solids won't make a lick of difference. Below are some articles that offer a balanced and interesting view on the topic.

  • What is preventing your baby sleeping through the night?  by Elizabeth Pantley Author of the No Cry Sleep Solution is a great article to help you decide if it is time to address your baby's sleep  skills.
  • The 'Science of Mom' is a great evidence-based blog. I really enjoyed this article on The Science of Sleep

I am a mum of 3 children, all ridiculously close in age. I have a background in Human Nutrition. Feeding kids is my passion. I've studied it, I've worked it and now I am living it. I hope this article was useful to some.

Baby sleep problems and starting solids 5 reasons why your baby's sleep can get worse after introducing solids


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One Comment

  1. I wish you’d written (and I’d seen) this article about 9 months ago!! My son has mostly outgrown his reflux now, but while it was never as bad as some babies’, it did severely affect him. He lost weight for 2 months, and we’re STILL (9 months old!) working on a nap schedule.