The Department of Health Guidelines state that children should be weaned from 6 months but increasingly, parents are introducing solid foods earlier than this. Often this is on recommendation from a health visitor or paediatrician but if you’re making this choice as a parent, are you making it for the right reason? Whether or not you decide to wean early is your decision, but we would urge you to make your decision because your baby is showing signs of weaning and you are armed with the relevant accurate information. Here are the most common reasons we hear for early weaning:
He’s not sleeping through the night any more – he must be hungry.
She’s a small baby – she needs fattening up.
He’s a big baby – he needs more food.
Below we will debunk a few common myths that lead parents to wean early.
There is no link between solid food during the day and sleeping through at night.
Myth 1: Weaning onto solid foods will help your baby to sleep through the night. Parents sometimes wean early for this reason but that simply isn’t true. Most of us eat plenty of food, and yet we sometimes wake in the night feeling peckish, thirsty or unsettled; maybe we just want a cuddle from the person lying next to us…so why can’t babies do that? All babies are different. Some children have a tiny appetite and sleep through, and have done from a very young age. Some children eat loads and still wake for one reason or another. Most babies are physically capable of sleeping through the night by the age of six months, but that bears little relation to whether they actually do.
Your baby does not need to consume solid food for nutrition from the start of weaning.
Myth 2:When weaning, your baby gets their nutrition from the solid food you offer. From 6-9 months, food is for fun, because your baby is still getting all the nutrition they need from milk. During this period, your little one is trying to figure out how to eat efficiently, and that’s their main job at that time. Children have a lot to learn about how to eat and weaning is when you facilitate this. Yes, children have to learn to understand feelings of hunger, satiety and to regulate their food intake in response to these feelings. Babies who are allowed to explore their food and feed themselves will probably eat less to begin with than those being spoon-fed. Logically, they simply won’t be getting as much in their mouths and they’ll spend a lot more time handling the food, experiencing it with their senses and feeding themselves with little hands that aren’t very coordinated yet, than babies who have it all done for them and only have to open their mouths. However, babies who self-feed will be drinking more milk to balance this out and so should be no more or less hungry than spoon-fed babies. Over the period of 6-12 months, your child will naturally reduce their milk feeds as they learn to eat their solid food.
Milk has many more calories than the portions of solid food we often offer babies.
Myth 3: A carbohydrate meal of solid food will fill your baby up as much as a milk feed would. Consider the number of calories in full-fat milk and the number of calories in some spoon-fed carrot: There are around 30 calories in 1 carrot. It is pure carbohydrate and is digested very quickly. There are around 150 calories in 250ml (8oz) of whole milk. It contains fat and protein and is digested slowly, so it sits in the tummy, filing up your child for longer. Can you see how weaning on these common traditional foods (carrot puree for example) and imagining that they can replace a milk meal could lead to waking at night? Your child might be hungry as they fill up their tummies on quick-digesting carbohydrate, which leaves less room for a good-sized, slow-digesting milk feed before bed.
Waking at night can be a sign of your child learning about food volumes.
Myth 4: Waking at night means your child isn’t getting enough nutrition. As your self-feeding child learns about volumes of food, they will often get it wrong – but getting it wrong is a natural part of the learning process. So, sometimes they will under-eat (and may wake in the night feeling hungry) and sometimes they will overeat (and may throw-up).
Waking at night can be unrelated to what your child is eating.
Myth 5: Waking at night means your child is hungry. Waking in the night could be due to a developmental spurt and nothing to do with hunger. Sleep regression is common at 8-9 months, as children learn to crawl, walk, pull-up to standing or are teething. You may find them standing up in their cot crying, as they haven’t yet learned how to get back down. They may kick or fling their arms around in their sleep as their nerves myelinate and they rehearse their new moves, embedding these actions in to their neural pathways.
Babies go through sleep cycles, just like we do as adults, which means that they will go through periods of very light sleep. Most adults wake up briefly throughout the night but it’s easy for us to get back to sleep. However, your baby might well be waking up between sleep cycles (about 5 times a night) and be unable to soothe themselves back to sleep (babies can’t self-soothe – it’s something you need to teach them as they grow up). So you see, there could be many reasons why your baby is waking up at night that are completely unrelated to food.