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Do solids affect sleep?

You’ve probably heard the myth that introducing solids will help your young baby sleep better. The lie detector test has discovered that this is a lie my friends… rarely have I seen a baby begin to sleep better with the introduction of solids, but I have seen many babies begin to sleep worse when solids are introduced at the 6 month mark. 

Why is this? 

There is loads of evidence to suggest that our babies are born prematurely compared to other mammals. Their digestive systems are premature as well. It is advised to introduce solids slowly and keep record of what you are introducing as you introduce it every few days so that you can look for potential allergens, and intolerances. This is also a chance for your baby’s digestive tract to familiarize itself with these new substances and catch up.

When you switch from a milk-based diet to solids your baby’s poop will change (you probably already know this), and this does change how often they go, and what their body does to prepare for their bowel movements.  

Some babies IMMEDIATELY take to solids, while others much prefer their parents milk until closer to the 1 year mark. It is the babies who are really excited about solids and seem to want to eat everything in sight that risk the chance of having their sleep disrupted, compared to their peers who are a bit more hesitant. 

Why is this? 

When our kids are excited about something, we as parents also become excited about that something!

With Baby Led Weaning (BLW) increasing in popularity, many families are feeding their babies exactly what they are having at meal times. I think this is great! But sometimes things can get out of hand quickly. Too many foods are introduced at once, and the child’s digestive tract has not had a chance to align with all of these foreign substances. At the same time, they are eating many different things, at many different times, and it is hard to tell what has possibly caused their tummy upset. 

How do you know something your child is eating might be upsetting their sleep patterns?

  • Baby is extra gassy, especially in the middle of the night 
  • You see your child bring their legs up to their chest, and they seem like they are in pain
  • You notice an increase in eczema or skin irritation in correspondence with sleep interruption 
  • Your baby refuses to be laid down, in a crib or flat on their back → they want to sleep upright all of the time. This might be a sign of silent reflux, or a food upsetting their tummy and wanting to stay upright for increased comfort.

Is there a way to introduce solids that is likely to impact sleep the least? 

  • Go slow – there is really no rush here friends! By the time your kiddo is 18 months they will probably be eating everything in sight. 
  • The recommendation is to introduce iron rich foods first, as iron stores from utero begin to deplete around the 9 month mark in infants. 
  • We hear, “food before 1 is just for fun”. I like this sentiment, but food before 1 does have some level of importance (see the point above), at the same time.. Don’t have too much fun with it! Keep your excitement at bay, and introduce one food at a time as much as you can every few days. 
  • Begin introducing your first solid meal at breakfast, rather than lunch or dinner. This will give your child a chance to digest their meal before nighttime sleep takes place. 

There are foods that have been shown to be more conducive to sleep overall. In Sleep from the Heart this is discussed in more detail, in addition to so many other things of course. 

I hope you find this helpful, and if you do.. Share it with a friend! 

XO

Lara 

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Sleep Associations – the good. the bad. the ugly?

You’ve surely heard about them by now..

Sleep associations. The things your baby associates with falling asleep.

Are they negative? Are they positive? Are they causing you to wake up MORE at night than you would be without them?

Good questions, really.

In the world of baby sleep there is a lot of emphasis on sleep associations. There is a lot of emphasis on the way your baby makes the vulnerable transition from awake to asleep. We do know that this transition IS a vulnerable one for a baby to make, and so it is only natural and normal that they would need some help in doing so.

Sleep associations that you hear of often include; pacifier use, or sucking on a bottle to fall asleep, being nursed to sleep, or rocking in the arms of a loved one. Sometimes a baby requires the swing, car, carrier, or stroller, to be able to fall asleep.

I would argue that some of the above can be used in a very positive way to help your baby go to sleep, and this is where I will remind you as I always do.. That if what you are currently doing is working for you, there is absolutely NO REASON to make a change!

Unfortunately, many of the same associations above can become an unsustainable sleep need that families are unable to uphold at every sleep time.

For example; if your baby can only sleep in a car (true of a couple of families I have worked with), this is usually not going to be a sleep association you can sustain for months. If one person always has to drive overnight so a baby can sleep; when will that parent get the sleep that they need to be happy, healthy, and attentive?

In my experience, there are some sleep associations that will ALWAYS be helpful for a family. If your baby learns that these items are associated with preparing for sleep, it is likely going to help you in the long run.

  1. A predictable and loving bedtime routine – we know that babies become great predictors of events. They come to associate their actual routine with going to bed at 9 or 10 months of age after going through the leap of programs. But this is not to say a loving bedtime routine is not a helpful sleep association sooner than this. It is an increased opportunity for connection with babe, and this is always a positive thing!
  2. Bath before bed – a warm bath at the start of your little one’s bedtime routine can be helpful. The bath raises your body’s temperature, and then the almost immediate decrease in temperature after the bath is done helps signal to the body that it is time for sleep. The steeper drop in temperature is more likely to put your little one into a deeper sleep, with the onset of melatonin production.
  3. Massage before bed – Deep pressure calms the nervous system, and babe will love the skin-to-skin, and eye-to-eye, connection time here.
  4. Dark sleep space – we know that our bodies will secrete melatonin in the dark, which is why those blackout blinds are truly important!  
  5. White or pink noise playing consistently – when babies transition through their sleep cycles, we know the first sense to “turn on” is a baby’s auditory sense. If they hear white noise in the background when they fall asleep, as well as, at partial arousals.. There is a small chance they will put themselves back to sleep. It also helps drown out toddler siblings, and neighbourhood noises.
  6. Swaddle or sleeping bag – depending on the age of your babe; these are great signals that sleep is coming. Many babies form a positive association with what they wear to bed, and I have seen my own children rub their cheeks fondly on the shoulder of their sleep sack. Bonus – you’re not second guessing their temperatures in the middle of the night where our body temperature naturally drops.
  7. Reading a book, or singing a song – another beautiful cue that bedtime is coming. When a parent sings or hums the same song on repeat, this often becomes a nice focal point for babe as they transition to sleep.
  8. Mutually beneficial cuddling, rocking, or snuggles – I say “mutually beneficial” because there is usually a time limit here for a parent before they become frustrated that the child is not going to sleep. I usually ask the families that I am working with to snuggle their babies for 5 minutes closely before putting them down for bed. There is a bit of an art to this, but not really one I can write out in full detail in a blog post! You will have to hire me for the elaborate shush pat. Haha.

I often say to the families I am working with this…

If you resent something your child associates with going to sleep, then let’s change it?

For some this means removing one thing the child associates with falling asleep, and offering another connection point instead.

For example; for a family who is having to replug their child’s pacifier multiple times per night, can we introduce a back rub that baby associates with falling asleep instead? Work on adding that in for a few nights, and then sub out the pacifier for a hold and back rub in the middle of the night? Allow baby to express their frustrations in arms with you, but don’t offer false hope if the pacifier is not coming back.  

Or, if baby is used to being bounced back to sleep at every night wake; is there another repetitive motion we can replicate in the crib that is less “hands-on” or labour intensive?

Not all sleep associations are bad. Not in the slightest. Depending how you look at it, maybe none are bad! It is all perspective, and education.

Breastmilk makes babies sleepy. That was designed by nature, and nature makes no mistake. Unfortunately nursing a baby to sleep at bedtime, does not always equal long stretches of sleep through the middle of the night. But it is also not wrong to do in the slightest, and some families are lucky enough to see their babes link up sleep cycles doing this as well.

Try out some other associations with your babe, and see what they think? You might be very surprised to see that they associate something else positively with going to sleep, and it may be something that is more mutually agreeable for the both of you.

Hope that helps give you some ideas, and food for thought.

XO

Lara

Thank you to Stacie-Lynn for the beautiful “feetie” photo shared here.