Growing up in Asian communities I’m sure many of us would have heard the older generation sharing what they claim to be “a foolproof tip” for new parents: adding cereal in a baby bottle to help sleep.
Friends, parents, grandparents, in-laws, you name it. I’m sure at least someone in your family tree would have mentioned something along these lines:
“Add a little cereal into their bottles. I guarantee soon they’ll be sleeping through the night.”
“Is your baby waking up because he is often hungry? Try giving them solids early. This will help them feel full for longer.”
Sound familiar? Surprisingly, they seem to be in line with the results of a new case study which claims that babies given solid food plus breast milk from three months sleep better than those who are solely breastfed.
But, should parents really be listening to the results of this study? Is there a disconnect between this research and real life? Let’s analyse this a bit deeper.
Early Introduction of Solids and Infant Sleep
Adding cereal in a baby bottle to help sleep is a common tip given by the older generation.
According to a study which was published in JAMA Pediatrics, giving solids earlier than six months has benefits for mum and baby. The study involved 1,303 three-month-old babies that were divided into two groups.
One group was solely breastfed for six months, the other group was given solid foods in addition to breast milk from the age of three months.
The study showed that infants in the group who ate solids as well as breast milk:
- slept longer
- woke less frequently and
- had fewer sleep problems than those who were exclusively breastfed until about six months
Great so far, you think? However, the differences between the solids group and the control group were not huge.
Babies on solids slept for up to 16 minutes longer per night, potentially giving parents about two extra hours of sleep per week.
Only 16 Minutes?
Okay, let’s all take a moment to let that information sink in. So, giving baby solids early only gives me 16 minutes more sleep?
But at what cost, is the million dollar question? Here’s some food for thought:
- possible risk of allergies
- likelihood of obesity
- stomach and bowel discomfort (due to immature digestive systems)
- decreased breast milk/formula intake which could result in lesser nutritional intake
- may decrease milk production for mum
- interfere with the absorption/digestion of breastmilk and formula
- RISK OF CHOKING, resulting in death
So, would I trade 16 minutes more sleep with all this? I’m sorry, but it’s a big fat NO. Even most paediatricians would tell you it is not wise to put cereal in a baby bottle to help sleep, or even give them solids earlier for that matter.
We all remember the case of the baby who died after his grandmother fed him banana cereal, right?
The American Academy of Pediatrics and other heavyweights in baby health such as the WHO and La Leche League International, also recommend that mums exclusively breastfeed their babies until they are at least six months old, so babies can reap all the benefits of mother’s milk.
Some of these benefits are extra immune protection and possible protection against future chronic illnesses like obesity and type II diabetes. So, why change what works? Why add cereal in a baby bottle to help sleep? Why introduce solids earlier for just 15 minutes of extra sleep?
‘Cereal in Baby Bottle to Help Sleep: It Worked for Me’
There is no solid proof of the benefits of adding cereal in a baby bottle to help sleep.
I’m sure well-meaning grandparents will insist that if it worked for them, hey, it will work for you. But we cannot blindly accept such advice without taking into consideration baby’s readiness for the introduction of solid food.
Have they truly mastered coordinating between sucking and swallowing? Will they be able to handle it when you cut a bigger hole into the teat? Are they physiologically ready for solids: can they hold their head up firmly and sit straight? These are two traits essential to guarantee a safe solids experience for baby.
Is it worth putting your baby’s health at risk for the sake of just 15 minutes of extra sleep?
There are plenty of other ways to encourage a baby to sleep for longer such as establishing sleep routines, setting up a more conducive sleeping environment or even babywearing.
Yes, I know how challenging it is to be sleep-deprived. But your little precious bundle won’t stay small forever and this is just part and parcel of being new parents.
Remember, mums and dads: Just because something is published by scientists doesn’t mean we should blindly accept it as the truth. We must learn to critically analyze such findings, and think carefully about how applicable they are in real life.
Ultimately, your baby’s health matters more than anything.
Source: BBC, Dr Greene
Read also: Tips on getting your baby to sleep longer