Babies given solid food along with breast milk from three months sleep better than those who are solely breastfed, according to a study.
The study by King's College London and St George's University of London in the UK found that babies introduced to solid foods early, slept longer, woke less frequently at night and suffered fewer serious sleep problems, than those exclusively breastfed for around the first six months.
The population based randomised clinical trial involved 1,303 exclusively breastfed three-month-olds from England and Wales who were divided into two groups, according to the research published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
One group followed standard infant feeding advice and were encouraged to exclusively breastfeed for around six months.
The second group, while continuing to breastfeed, were asked to introduce solid foods to their infants' diet from the age of three months.
Parents completed online questionnaires every month until their baby was 12 months, and then every three months up to three years of age.
Of the parents of 1,303 infants who took part in the study, 94 per cent (1,225), completed the three-year questionnaire - 608 from the exclusive breastfeeding group, and 607 from the early introduction of food group.
The study found that infants in the group who had solids introduced early slept longer and woke less frequently than those infants who followed standard advice to exclusively breastfeed to around six months of age.
Differences between the two groups peaked at six months, with the early introduction group sleeping for a quarter of an hour (16.6 minutes) longer per night (almost 2 hours longer per week), and their night waking frequency decreased from just over twice per night to 1.74.
Feedback about maternal wellbeing showed that sleep problems (as defined by the parents), which were significantly associated with maternal quality of life, were reported less frequently in the group introducing solids before six months.
"The results of this research support the widely held parental view that early introduction of solids improves sleep," said Professor Gideon Lack from King's College London.
"While the official guidance is that starting solid foods won't make babies more likely to sleep through the night, this study suggests that this advice needs to be re-examined in light of the evidence we have gathered," said Lack.