Is it possible for baby to eat her way to a better night’s sleep? We investigate. By Lisa Witepski
Most moms will do anything for a few extra hours of sleep. Happily, that ‘anything’ doesn’t have to be drastic. It may just boil down to what you’re feeding your little one.
You may already have noticed the sleep-inducing power of food. Remember that tricky time just before you introduced solids, when your little one started waking up more than usual during the night? And remember how she calmed down as soon as her tummy was full again?
According to Lindsay Archibald-Durham, a paediatric dietician based in Gauteng, a UK study published in 2015 shows that increasing the number of calories consumed during the day may help to cut down on the number of feeds your baby needs at night. Quite simply, she says, this is because your baby’s energy needs are being met throughout the day.
The key lies in increasing the complimentary intake of solids and, more than that, choosing the right kinds of foods. “Ideally, you should try to ensure that one third of all nutrients comes from complex low GI carbohydrates, one third from proteins that are rich in tryptophan, and the remaining one third from veggies,” Lindsay says. She adds that this specific combination, plus an evening meal that’s rich in fat, will also help to keep your baby full.
When to introduce solids
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the South African Department of Health, solids should only be introduced at six months. However, there is increasing evidence to support the earlier introduction of solids, particularly high allergen foods like eggs and nuts, from four months.
Many of the paediatric and allergy guidelines in the USA and Europe suggest solids should not start before this time. So, you can introduce fruit and veg at four months, but proteins like poultry, fish, dairy products like cheese and yoghurt and wholegrains should only be introduced from six months.
The foods to choose to help baby sleep better:
- Dairy products
- Poultry like turkey and chicken
- Fish (especially salmon)
- Nuts, seeds and legumes
- Veggies (particularly spinach, broccoli, turnip greens, asparagus, onions and seaweed)
- Fruits like apples, bananas, peaches and avocado
- Whole grains like brown rice, traditional oatmeal and quinoa.
Why these specific foods?
These foods are rich in tryptophan, a calming amino acid which turns into the sleep inducing neurotransmitter serotonin and the hormone melatonin upon eating. Lindsay explains that these chemicals have been shown to promote sleep.
You can crank up the sleep factor even more by combining these foods with low GI carbohydrates as this makes tryptophan more available to the brain.
The benefits of green leafy vegetables for baby sleep
Foods rich in calcium (like these) are melatonin superheroes. Dairy is obviously also a great choice here. Melatonin is important, says Lindsay, because it controls sleep/wake patterns. In other words, the more melatonin, the greater the likelihood of creating a sound sleep routine.
The benefits of nus and fish for sleep
These foods are rich in vitamin B6 which, again, stimulates the production of melatonin.
More about the expert:
Lindsay Archibald-Durham is a paediatric dietician based in Johannesburg. She graduated from the University of KwaZulu Natal in 2000 and spent 13 years in the National Health Service in the UK, working in the field of paediatrics and allergy. Lindsay has a special interest in food allergies and is the current Chair of the Allergy Society of South Africa (ALLSA) Allergy Dietetic Interest Group. She works at the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre in Johannesburg and also practises at Centapaeds Therapy Centre in Edenvale, Gauteng.
In her 16 years as journalist, Lisa Witepski’s work has appeared in most of South Africa’s leading publications, including the Mail & Guardian, Sunday Times, Entrepreneur and Financial Mail. She has written for a number of women’s magazines, including Living & Loving, Essentials and many others, across topics from lifestyle to travel, wellness, business and finance. She is a former acting Johannesburg Bureau Chief for Cosmopolitan, and former Features Editor at Travel News Weekly, but, above all, a besotted mom to Leya and Jessica. Lisa blogs at whydoialwayscravecake.blogspot.com and lisa.witepski.blogspot.com, and tweets at @LisaWitepski.