How to get Solid Sleep: Weaning Baby

Around six months, breast or formula milk alone no longer supplies enough nutrients for baby’s growth and development.

Proper food is an exciting milestone for baby but it can feel daunting as a parent. And there’s just no getting away from the fact it’s messy!

This week we share tips to help you start baby with solid food, talk through how the food they eat can affect their sleep and why weaning and sleep are so closely matched.

EP13 Solids and Sleep Transcript

Cat: [00:00:00] Tired. It's pretty much the word every parent answers when asked, how are you? Parenthood is exhausting. And whilst we can't promise you'll never put your phone in the fridge and try to make a call with milk again, we can help you and your family get more kip. This is The Sleep Mum's. The only podcast that will help your baby sleep. I'm Cat Cubie, journalist and broadcaster and this is Sarah Carpenter, baby sleep consultant. Now, I've just learned that whilst I'm planning, writing and getting things ready for a podcast, Sarah does another kind of prep. Sarah, how did you prepare for our podcast when you're with friends?

Sarah: [00:00:38] I actually knew you were going to do this, as soon as I sent that text, I was like, this is going to come back and bite me. It's ridiculous. But I feel like I cannot confidently do podcasts unless I've waxed my legs.

Cat: [00:00:50] Guys, you have to understand, Sarah prepares for our podcast like it's a date. That's how special you are! This episode is all about weaning and how to make sure that once you start feeding your baby food, you still get solid sleep. Around six months, breast or formula milk alone no longer supplies enough nutrients for baby's growth and development. Eating solid foods can feel like a really big change for baby. And whilst it's super exciting, it can also involve a lot of work and cleaning up! The NHS guidelines currently recommend weaning at six months, but the truth is it can feel like a bit of a minefield. So our first thing is, how do you know if your baby is ready for solid food, some babies seem ready for food, wait before others and some parents are ready for weaning before others. So, Sarah, when do you know if your baby is ready for food?

Sarah: [00:01:47] You're looking for developmental changes and that's how you're going to know they're ready. And this is why the NHS guidelines of six months is a guideline and not a hard and fast rule, because, as you say, some babies are going to be ready slightly before others. But bear in mind that by six months old, all babies need to start on some form of solids. So, you know, it's not going to be 'my babies turned six months today and that's them starting on solids, some babies will start beforehand, and that's actually fine. But a few key things that you're looking for; your baby will suddenly show huge amounts of interest in what you're eating. And so sitting on your knee, they're going to start grabbing at the food. They're going to start pulling the fork out your hand. So if you're putting your spoon into the bowl, they're going to put their hand into the bowl and follow what you're doing.

Cat: [00:02:53] I'm pretty sure both of my kids went to grab beer bottles fairly early on. I don't know what that says about us as a family or my children; obviously we didn't let them.

Sarah: [00:03:06] I think we've all got that photo! [laughter] You want to be looking out for signs that they're starting to set up a little bit more confidently and independently, but they don't have to be fully independent. You can use the highchair to support them. So, it's just seeing that strenghtening in their back and neck muscles that you're looking for. You'll see an improvement in their coordination. So their hand-eye coordination is going to improve. They are going to actually be able to reach for things and bring that thing up to their mouth. And they might actually have more disrupted nights, so a baby has been previously really settled overnight and sleeping through. They might suddenly start to wake up overnight again. And that is a sign that they really are ready to start solids and also becoming irritable and less satisfied after they've had their milk. You know, previously they might have still experienced that sort of milk drunk face and been really relaxed after they'd had a feed. Now, they might be finished their milk and continue to be quite grumpy, as if they haven't really had a feed at all.

Cat: [00:04:15] Because the guidelines are there and it feels like a hard and fast rule that is literally like, right, OK, that's the six month birthday. Now we can go, but it doesn't have to be a hard line.

Sarah: [00:04:26] No, it really doesn't. And it's really important to remember as well that, you know, when you do say ready steady go, they're not going to sit down to three course meal. It's a relatively slow process when you start weaning, with little tastes. You're really building up to the Christmas dinner, that they will finally get to.

Cat: [00:04:48] Our second thing is why weaning is actually quite a lot like sleep, because we always want to bring it back to our favourite! I think it's because there's so much information out there and there are certain parenting cliques which can make you feel that you must do it one way or the other. And depending on where you stand, if you don't do it that way, suddenly you're a bad parent and people can feel quite passionately about whatever standpoint they're coming from. And that can be really overwhelming in itself as a parent. And that's kind of what we want to bust in terms of sleep. That's why we created The Sleep Mums, just because there are these two opposing views doesn't mean you need to fall into a particular camp. With weaning it can often feel like there's a right way and a wrong way to feed your baby. And for a lot of parents and people, that really freaks them out. So, Sarah, what are the different kind of groups or standpoints, if you like, around weaning and is there a right way?

Sarah: [00:05:47] So the two main forms of weaning are baby led or spoon fed. Essentially meaning that for baby led, you are waiting until six months because you can't start baby led before six months, and then you're instantly offering the sort of finger food varieties. A lot of people find with maybe number's two, three, four or five - so babies are already watching siblings eat - that they do prefer the baby led method and actually, for some busy parents, baby led maybe just fits in a little bit better. The other form of weaning is your spoon fed, so your purees and you just you can start that before six months. So you are just pureeing all your vegetables etc before you give it to your baby. And over time, you're just increasing the consistency. There is no right or wrong. And actually, my recommendation is post six months to do a combination of both. If you are doing purees, then you have a little bit more security and confidence in what you're giving because you're in control of the amount that baby's taken. So you actually are feeding them a meal that you can walk away and think yup they've had enough to eat and they're going to be satisfied. If they're doing purely baby led. You can always monitor what's going in and a lot of it does end up on the floor. And if you've got a dog that gets cleaned up quickly and you can even see what's been left. So, it's just from a confidence point of view, a combination or definitely starting with purees can be a lot easier.

Cat: [00:07:19] I certainly find with both of mine that giving them something to hold in their hands was such a useful way of slightly distracting them from trying to throw bowls of food around the kitchen, but also giving them a wee bit of control over what they were eating was a positive thing. They felt involved, too, but also that certainly from my point of view and obviously, again, what we always reiterate is everyone's different. But for me, I felt better knowing that they had had a good meal, as far as I saw it, a good meal from the purees as well.

Sarah: [00:07:54] Yeah, definitely. It's about confidence again.

Cat: [00:07:59] And you do get different personalities, obviously, in terms of eating as well.

Sarah: [00:08:03] Yeah. I mean, some babies will open their mouths for that first meal and never look back. Other babies will take more time to learn the scale of how to eat and it will just be a longer process.

Cat: [00:08:15] See, it's just like sleep. That's what we're saying. It's like sleep, because whilst baby might instinctively know about putting food into their mouths, we as parents help them to make good choices when it comes to what to eat. So like sleep, it's our job as parents to guide them and help them towards better eating and, of course, better sleep.

Cat: [00:08:42] Now onto our third thing, some tips to actually help you get started with weaning, because given everything we've said, it can feel pretty daunting. So, Sarah, how and where do you start?

Sarah: [00:08:54] First and foremost, keep it simple. Don't rush out and buy all the gadgets that are associated with weaning you really don't need them the same until things are flat, small, oval shaped, spoon, a good bib and somewhere for baby sit. So at this stage, you don't even need a high chair you can use if you've got like bouncy chair style chair, your Baby Bjorn or something, you can actually set baby in there initially to get started, just make sure that you have a towel or something around, because you are going to get messy. As soon as that spoon goes into the baby's mouth, their hands are going to follow. So things will get messy. So I would see my top tip would be lower your expectations, as you get started...

Cat: [00:09:38] I've said it before, I think that's a very good tip for parents in general! [laughter] Not that you shouldn't have high expectations for your children because, of course, they are geniuses. But yeah, just in general, I think the lower your expectations of how the day is going to pan out, the better it is!

Sarah: [00:09:56] Exactly. So, you know, when you first start, you've got to remember that it's another new skill that your little baby is learning. So they might not appreciate that they have to open their mouth. So the initial few spoonfuls it's going to a case of the spoon approaching babies mouth, baby's tongue coming out, pushing the food back up the spoon. So, that are not actually going to take it in, they're just going to push it around a bit. So you're going to spend the first, possibly few, meals scoopping the same spoonful of food off the chin and putting it back in the mouth. So that little tiny bit of food could go in and out the mouth a good ten times! And actually you'll feel like you've done nothing and babies achieved nothing. But they have. During that process, they've learned another new skill in their little lives. That's definitely kind of the starting point. In terms of introducing meals over the course of sort of nine days you want to be introducing one meal every day three days. So by the time you've got to the end of your nine days, you're on your three meals. It doesn't matter which meal you introduce first, ok. You'll get a lot of conflicting advice on that. But actually the most important thing to think about is when you have time and when your baby is awake not overly hungry, but hungry enough to try something. So it really is about the timing that works for you. For some people, breakfast is the most relaxed time of the day. So that's the meal to go for other people prefer to wait until dinnertime time when both parents might be there. And for some, lunch is when they can actually adjust the timings and they can do a little bit earlier. So baby is defintely not tired and then can go down for their big nap. So it really is up to you to think about when it's going to work in your day. But once you have started weaning, there's no going back. So you can't decide to get baby lunch for three days and then have a week where actually you've been too busy to give them any food. You have to keep it going once you started.

[00:11:50] Which is why it's so important that you're ready to do it as well as baby being ready to do it, because it is a big undertaking. Whether you're doing purees or you're doing baby led or a combination of them, there can be a lot of preparing... and cleaning up to do! And it's a bit like painting a room; I always get really excited before starting weaning and then a couple of days and I'm like, oh man, I forgot how hard this was!

Sarah: [00:12:18] So a lot of people feel like that. But again, coming back to keeping it simple, don't stress if you decided to go down the puree route, do not stress if you end up just using pouches for the first tastes. There's nothing wrong with that. You know, if it's a difference of you actually enjoying the experience and not enjoying the experience, it's far better to go down the route of making it easy for yourself.

Cat: [00:12:42] Yeah, I think what's really important is that you make it a fun experience for you and baby and you are essentially their cheerleader. That however they're doing, if they are just swiping food around their face or pushing up the spoon that you encourage them and also remind yourself that you need encouragement to and so be a cheerleader for yourself as well. Don't be too hard on yourself.

Sarah: [00:13:10] No, not at all. So if you're standing in front of your baby getting excited about the fact that they've licked the spoon, you're probably going to get rewarded with a really nice smile. So your baby's actually your cheerleader whilst you're being theirs, which is really nice.

Cat: [00:13:24] Oh, God, I'm clearly a bit emotional today. That's so lovely. Actual tears.

Cat: [00:13:32] I started with breakfast because it seems to be the quietest time in our house and there was a nice kind of break between having had that morning feed. I quite like sitting and having breakfast with each of them, it felt like a really special time, as you say, kind of just really me and them. And whilst the rest of the day there was always other things going on or other noises or people around, whereas it felt really calm and quiet. But that will be different for different people.

Sarah: [00:14:00] Yeah, absolutely. And actually important just to think about your household and you know, the things are going to work for you. Sometimes breakfast can actually be the busiest time of day. So, yeah, it's just before you start, take time to consider when you're going to do it.

Cat: [00:14:21] Now, we always bring it back to sleep because that's what we're here for. So our fourth thing is how your baby's starting on solid food can impact their sleep. So, Sarah how do solids affect sleep?

Sarah: [00:14:34] So it can be positive and it can be negative. If your babies fuller they are going to sleep better, they're going to be more satisfied. But, in addition to that, introducing all these new flavors and foods, it can actually affect your baby's bowel movements and their wind. So you do need to work that little bit harder, just give them enough time to sit quietly after they finished their meal just to help digest it, just to improve the amount of trapped wind that they could potentially have. Be prepared, if baby becomes a little bit unsettled overnight, then if you can discretely check the nappy, just in case the introduction of solids has caused them to do a poo overnight, which they previously maybe wouldn't have done. But that can happen. Because it changes the consistency of the poo so much it can cause sometimes a little bit constipation as well, so they might have a little bit of sore tummy from that, which could prevent them from getting into that really nice, good, deep sleep. So just think about the timings of foods you know you don't want to be doing at 10 minutes before you're putting them down for a nap. You definitely don't want to be giving them dinner too close to bath time, things like that. So just always allow for a little bit of a window, to sit quietly in the highchair, maybe singing some songs or reading some books just to help baby digest things. And while they're doing that, they can have their little beaker with water in it, which is obviously going to help them with some tummy issues as well. If they're starting to just play around and drink the odd little bit of water that will really help.

[00:16:13] Ok, parenting klaxon here, OK? Wahawah! When you start when you start weaning and you're going from milk onto solid food, the contents of your baby's nappy a couple of days or 24 hours or so after you start, depending on how much they eat, can be quite revolting. You may boke. I would say, if you're changing dirty nappies after you started weaning, make sure that your stomach is settled because it's quite a change from the old Korma poo!

Sarah: [00:16:46] Yeah, people can get quite a shock when they actually see exactly what their babys eaten coming back out in their nappy. So be prepared for that. And the smell as well. You know, having thought that their babies poo smelt quite sweet and nice. Not anymore.

[00:17:00] Yeah. And whole blueberry's [laughter]. The other thing, talking about wind as well, which is important, obviously we've said before, can massively impact sleep. And just in the same way as you wind your baby after they've had milk feeds, there are ways to help that wind move through their system after you start weaning. And you've spoken obviously about keeping them in the highchair, a little bits of water, but also tummy massage can be really good around bathtime just before they're going to sleep at night to help move things through. We made up a song, which was to go with the cycling movement that you do with their legs that helps wing go through, which we called 'Pump the Poo'. Because almost on a nightly occurrence, we would do this kind of cycling thing, post bath and then there would be a poo. But I was glad that they would get out before going to sleep. Sorry, that's definitely a parenting overshare there. I apologise to my children.

Sarah: [00:18:03] But yeah, you're totally right. It's really important to do everything you can to help them. And actually it is quite a nice little time slot of the day, just to do a little bit of massage, help relax them before their bath or bed and get those legs moving to really help the bubbles move.

Cat: [00:18:21] As I say, we love the sleep, so I think it's important to talk about the fact there are actually some foods that can help with sleep. There are foods that contain tryptophan, which sounds a little bit Sci-Fi movie, but it's, basically, a substance that when it's combined with healthy carbs, gives better sleep. And there are lots of things that you probably know about the fact that they can help with sleep like oats, interestingly, some green leafy veg, bananas are good and poultry is actually good if you are on a meat diet, especially turkey, which is why everyone falls asleep on Christmas Day. And as we said at the beginning of this pod, it's all about Christmas dinner and having a snooze afterwards. If you are veggie or vegan, there are lots of nuts and almonds that also contain tryptophan too.

Sarah: [00:19:12] But just be aware when you're introducing certain foods, as well, to check what age they can be introduced from and just cover that. And also think about your allergies too. If allergies on in the family, then you don't want to be introducing anything that might be risky.

Cat: [00:19:28] Exactly, like a number of those things might come later, after you long in to sort of weaning journey. But clearly oats can be fairly early on.

Sarah: [00:19:38] Yeah, definitely. And your cabbage and spinach definitely can be early on.

Cat: [00:19:44] Yes, but again, watch for the poos! And the wind, we all know that! [laughter]

Cat: [00:19:49] And finally, let's talk about what Sarah calls the winning 3-2. Now, don't panic, this isn't some sort of mad diet for you or your baby, like that one that was really popular a few years back. So, Sarah, what is the 3-2 or perhaps I should call it Sarah's 3-2.

Sarah: [00:20:09] So essentially, by the end of your initial weaning journey you want baby to be on three meals a day and two snacks. So that's your 3-2. The amount of food that you will give your baby are going to vary; some days, just like you and I, some days are going to be extra hungry, they're going to demolish everything that you offer them. Other days will be a little bit more picky. And that's the same for tastes, you may offer like a sausage casserole one day and it might be their favorite food. They might eat three bowls at lunchtime. You might offer that exact same sausage casserole two days later and they'll turn their nose up. So it's fine for them to have their own little opinions. But at this stage, it's not that they dislike something. So if you keep offering a food, then they're more likely to take it. Not to say that you won't come across something that they really dislike. I have a real hang up about baked beans and so do my children. When I offered them to my kids, they rejected them and so after one setting, I was like, yeah, they're like me. They don't like them, so we don't have baked beans in the house!

Cat: [00:21:19] Obviously, that can sound like quite a lot of meals and snacks, the 3-2. So that's five separate sittings a day, and then you add into that milk feeds, it can feel a bit like in those early days that literally all you are doing is feeding your baby. So Sarah, let's talk about that a wee bit.

Sarah: [00:21:41] Yes, you definitely don't want to be reducing your feeds at this stage, you actually won't see a change to any of the milk feeds until around the eight/nine month mark. So, you really are cramming your day and it can feel like you've got quite a lot to fit in when you think about your milk feeds, your play time, your solids and your sleeps. So it's quite good to just think about the structure of your day and if you haven't previously had a schedule, you will fall into a natural schedule now because you've got so much more to fit in. But definitely milk is still the main part of the diet at this stage, so you really don't want to be reducing those feeds yet.

Cat: [00:22:19] My daughter definitely started having less and less milk quite quickly because she had a really big appetite for food, whereas my son was slightly less interested in solid food, but he still ate quite a bit but he really held onto those milk feeds. He did not want to let them go for a really long time. And I did find it really hard, particularly with having a toddler for that period of time, because it did feel like we were like milk feed, snack, nap, milk feed. There was just so much to fit into the day.

Sarah: [00:22:52] Yeah. I mean, it's quite good to use your snacks to tie in with the mid-morning and mid-afternoon milk feeds. So you would offer the milk first and then just very quickly offer a small snack. So you're condensing that time. But obviosuly that doesn't apply to your main meals. So it can feel like a lit but it passes though. As with everything in these crazy phases, although it feels like they're going on forever when you're in the thick of it, you'll look back and realise that actually it passed really quickly and you survived.

[00:23:20] Yes. Now, I know we've spoken about this before in terms of talking about milk feeds, but it is really important to try and feed baby until they are full. It's important to continue to offer food to your baby if they're looking for it. It's really hard to over feed your baby.

Sarah: [00:23:39] Absolutely, baby will stop when they're ready to stop. So if you've got a serving and they finish it and they finish it really quickly and really enthusiastically, then definitely offer them a little bit more and just keep offering little amounts until they actually clamp their mouth shut and say no more. So yes, some days you will feel like you've maybe stuffed your baby to the absolute max, but they're not going to have taken it if they weren't ready for it.

Cat: [00:24:08] I found that really fascinating because I think your automatic reaction as a parent is there are tiny being they can eat three bowls of, I don't know, whatever, Bolognese, but they have an amazing ability to put away, but also to to stop when they don't want anymore. And teaching them that, which I'm not sure I was ever taught, seems like such a brilliant thing. My daughter now is so good at stopping when she's full, even if they're like sweets and snacks on offer when she's done, she's done. And I think I was much more conscious of that when we were weaning her. And I was less conscious when I was weaning my son because there was a lot more going on. So I would kind of be like, alright, he's done, let's move on to the next thing. And he's definitely not quite as good a skill at stopping when he's full, particularly if there are sweets on offer.

Sarah: [00:24:59] So, yeah, I mean, again, every baby will be slightly different, but you just remember you can't over feed them.

Cat: [00:25:11] Every week we answer a listener question, which is one of you sending us a question and then we try and answer it because we feel it's really important to any advice into practice in the real world. If you have a question, just get in touch with us online at The Sleep Mums, either on Instagram or on Facebook, or you can head to our website. This week is a question about winning from Nathan.

Nathan: [00:25:46] Hi Cat and Sarah. We've been given a six month old baby solids for a few weeks now, and I just don't feel like he's learning to eat food off the spoon. Can you help? Thanks, Nathan.

Sarah: [00:25:55] Sometimes that can happen, you can start to feel really frustrated by the fact that you're continually especially if you're making foods, you know, you're continually offering food that you've lovingly made and baby is still appearing to reject it. So a few things to look at are the size and shape of the spoon that you're using. If you have been trained with the oval flat shape, then try something a little bit rounder and deeper and see if you just need to get their mouths over the spoon a bit more. If you have tried pouches or if you have access to the pooches that you fill yourself, then actually try and just hold that close to the baby's mouth and squirt a little bit in straight from the pouch and see if they'll then start to suck from it that way. And the other thing that you can try is actually too offer, if they've been starting to progress onto a sippy cup for their water, you can actually for soup, cooled down soup in a sippy cup. And again that's just helping them have a taste. So although if they're sucking it, they're not actually learning the spoon skill, they're still just learning to take the taste and enjoy it more, which will then help them develop to the point where they are enthusiastic about the food and then learn how to take the food off the spoon. But certainly look at the different types of spoons and start with that and for a couple of different styles.

Cat: [00:27:17] I always find that a breadstick or a piece of toast in the hand helped distract. So if perhaps if you're not doing any baby led and they are over six months, it's always a good starting point to help, I think, and kind of distract them, whilst you're popping a spoon in or to their mouth.

Sarah: [00:27:36] Definitely, and use the good old aeroplane's and cows and horses and all sorts of flying animals that come at you on the spoon. Dance around a little bit, get excited when baby smiles pop it in.

Cat: [00:27:50] There's a wee bit of conflicting advice about that, because sometimes people say don't do that because you want them to be focusing on the food. But really, what we're saying, as with sleep, you do what you gotta do to get the outcome that you want.

Sarah: [00:28:06] Absolutely. Yeah, you definitely do. At this stage, you are encouraging baby and your focus is just to get some food in there. So do what you can, distract and get that food going in.

Cat: [00:28:18] And also it is about play. It is about learning. They're learning about foods. And the best way, as we like to say, the best way to learn is through play.

Sarah: [00:28:27] Absolutely. It's all about play, all about fun - for both of you! So focus on that.

Cat: [00:28:32] So, do you just need to persevere?

Sarah: [00:28:35] You do. You definitely do. I mean it like we've said, it's not something you can turn back on, so just keep going. Try offering different tastes and offer a slightly different times of the day. But yeah, you just have to keep going.

Cat: [00:28:55] So that's five things about weanning and sleep. We hope it was solid gold in terms of helping you work out the best way to start feeding your baby more than milk. As we mentioned at the start, you being ready is almost as important as baby being ready for weaning, because once you start, there's no going back. Then it can feel like a lot in the first weeks and months when baby will still be having loads of milk feeds too.

Cat: [00:29:18] We'd love it if you subscribe to our podcast, write us a lovely review. I mean, it doesn't have to be lovely, but I'm sure it might just help you sleep better at night! You can also follow us on social media @thesleepmums on Instagram and on Facebook. Just look for The Sleep Mums. We also have a website with a little bit more about us and our book, Read It and Sleep. And there are also transcriptions of all of our episodes of The Sleep Mums if you want to have a read back over what we said.

Cat: [00:29:47] Look after yourself and sleep soon.

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