Feeding babies solid food from the age of just three months old could help them sleep better and improve their long-term health, a major study has found.
Official advice is to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of life.
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.
One finding deemed crucial by Lack was that the parents who exclusively breastfed for those first six months were twice as likely to report an issue with their child's sleep than those in the solids group. After six months babies in both groups were eating a range of solids.
There's also the question of whether longer sleep is actually a good thing for babies - although it clearly can be helpful for parents, Kim noted.
"Given that infant sleep directly affects parental quality of life, even a small improvement can have important benefits", says Dr. Michael Perkin, a co-author of the study from St George's, University of London.
It also resulted in babies sleeping two hours more each week and reduced the number of times they woke up in the night.
Feedback about maternal wellbeing showed that sleep problems were reported less frequently in the group introducing solids before six months.
The questionnaires recorded the frequency of food consumption and included questions about breastfeeding frequency and duration, as well as questions about sleep duration.
A Food Standards Agency spokesman said: 'This further analysis. could be of interest to parents, however, there are limitations to the findings.
Responding to the study, Prof Mary Fewtrell, nutrition lead at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, pointed out that guidelines for infant feeding are now being reviewed.
"We expect to see updated recommendations on infant feeding in the not too distant future".
A baby's first food should not be mashed banana or rice, with parents advised to wean their children on broccoli.
Keep offering different foods.
More than 1300 healthy breastfed three-month-olds were split randomly into two groups in one the babies were exclusively breastfed until they were six months old - as current guidelines recommend - while children in the other group were breastfed and given solid foods, including peanuts, eggs and wheat, from the age of three months, in addition to breastfeeding.
Last month, the Royal College of Midwives responded to the pressure felt by new mothers by publicly stating new guidelines for midwives to respect a woman's choice not to breastfeed. As part of the study the team also looked the impact on other measures, including growth and sleep.
Lack said a crucial finding is that parents who were asked to exclusively breastfeed had nearly twice the odds of reporting a serious problem with their child's sleep than those who were asked to introduce their babies to solid food early. 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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