How your baby's nutrition can influence their sleep

If baby does not sleep well it can affect their feeding and if baby does not feed/eat well it can affect their sleep.
If baby does not sleep well it can affect their feeding and if baby does not feed/eat well it can affect their sleep.

When it comes to sleep and nutrition, it can often be a chicken-or-the-egg scenario, says Jolandi Becker, certified sleep consultant and of owner of Good Night. "If baby does not sleep well, it can affect their feeding, and if baby does not feed/eat well, it can affect their sleep," she says. 

In light of that, she compiled a list of warning signs parents can look for regarding feeding issues, as these can have a major impact on sleep.

0 - 3 months (newborns)

Newborns will still drink milk at night, Jolandi says.

"They are small, their stomachs are tiny, and they cannot take large feeds and will wake up regularly to feed," she says.

"A newborn’s sleep is regulated by hunger, and most of the time when they wake up at night you can assume they are hungry, of course cramps, winds, reflux etc, can also impact their sleep patterns," she explains.  

If a newborn is struggling with feeding, she says she can almost guarantee that they will struggle with sleeping. 

To improve sleep at this age, it is critical to work on baby’s feeding, ensuring that the child is feeding well, she says. During the day, babies should not go longer than 3 hours without a feed, so she suggests waking your baby even if it is just to feed.

"If you miss a feed during the day, your baby will make that feed up within the next 24 hours, and that is usually at night," she says. "As for the night, speak to your health care professional about when it is no longer needed to wake your baby up at night to feed." 

Must read: Your baby's sleep cycles explained, and why cat-naps aren't good enough

4 – 6 months

The World Health Organisation and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusively breastfeeding until six months, and Parent24 and Jolandi agree with these recommendations, as this ensures the full health benefits of breastfeeding.

Most health experts would advise though that just like any other milestone some are ready earlier and some later, and most babies show signs of readiness between 4 and 6 months to start on solids. 

A parent should remember to never start solids before 17 weeks in healthy, full-term babies. Your baby has to be developmentally and physically ready to start solid foods and should show signs of readiness Jolandi says, and there are risks to both starting solids too late and too early. 

It is important to start with protein by 6 months. Babies have a reserve of iron which they receive from their mother’s blood while they’re in the womb, but waiting too long after 6 months to introduce foods (especially protein which includes iron), increases your baby’s risk of iron deficiency. 

Iron is needed to create haemoglobin, which in turn helps carry oxygen throughout the body. This is also important for restful, good quality sleep.  

6 - 8 months

During this time parents can now move from introduction to exploration with food, and it can be difficult to get the balance between solids and milk right.

This can mean that a healthy and full-term baby might still take an early morning feed. Milk is the most important source of nutrients up until 12 months, so Jolandi recommends that you fill baby up with milk first and then top up with solids. 

Don’t compromise on milk to increase solids, she says, advising that parents keep a night feed to start with and give baby a chance to naturally push out the feed at night. 

Also read: 10 new-mom surprises 

9 – 12 months

Very seldom do healthy full-term babies still require a night feeding at this age. During this time is important to have a variety of foods, including iron rich foods during the day. 

12 – 24 months (toddlers)

After 12 months solids become the most important source of nutrients and with healthy toddlers, any milk feed at night could do more harm than good. 

Milk at night can fill them up, thereby reducing the amount of solids they eat during the day and increasing their risk of iron deficiency and obesity, Jolandi warns.

More often than not, sorting out sleep and nutrition is done in combination, but when parents see that either or neither are improving after a week, she recommends that parents discuss these challenges with a dietician who specialises in infant or toddler feeding to ensure the feeding issues are successfully dealt with first.

Compiled for Parent24 by Elizabeth Mamacos

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