Babies who are given solid food after three months are able to sleep better than those who stick with an exclusively breastmilk diet after that time, a new study suggests.
While the practice did not provide for totally uninterrupted nights of sleep, the study of 1,303 children in England and Wales between 2009 and 2012 showed that babies given solids earlier than now recommended did improve their sleep patterns.
"An added benefit (of early introduction of solids) is that it seems to confer better sleep for the children", said Gideon Lack, professor of paediatric allergy at King's College London, and a co-author of the research.
But they said it was unlikely that the bias would have persisted beyond six months.
The authors believe this is simply because those given solids did not wake up hungry in the night.
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The differences between the groups peaked at six months, with the group fed solids early sleeping for a quarter of an hour longer per night (almost two hours longer per week) and waking less frequently - 1.74 times a night rather than twice a night.
That report knocked away one of the main justifications for delayed introduction of solids, and previous year health authorities in the U.S. changed their guidance by recommending the most at-risk children should be given peanuts as early as four months.
However Professor Amy Brown of Swansea University, whose research includes weaning of babies, said the benefits revealed by the study were "minimal" in real-world terms, and that other research showed no rewards for early introduction of solids.
'We found a small but significant increase in sleep duration and less frequent waking at night.
Officials, however, insisted mothers should continue to follow the current advice until new guidance is published.
She said: "These are interesting findings from a large randomised controlled trial".
For now, women are still being encouraged to wait six months before giving their baby solid foods, but given the research, that's advice we might see change in the future.
"However, the evidence base for the existing advice on exclusive breastfeeding is over 10 years old, and is now being reviewed in the United Kingdom by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition". If there is any doubt about what's best for your baby, please seek advice from your doctor or health professional'.
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