Weaning can be one of the most fun baby milestones - and almost certainly the most messy! Often parents have been told that weaning is the panacea for their little one's multiple wake ups - that, with a tummy full of solid food, their baby will miraculously sleep through the night. Yet, for many families, the introduction of solids actually worsens sleep. In this guest post from Aine Homer, the Baby Reflux Lady, we explore why this may be.
I specialise in babies with reflux, and through my work have discovered that the approach I take to weaning babies with reflux actually has far greater reach than those babies who have had reflux. What I explain in this blog, applies to about half of the infant population, because we all have the same development patterns. It’s the timing that is different.
Around six months, a lot of babies who were previously settled suddenly get labelled with the “six month sleep regression”. And while there are a vast number of reasons that this theory is proposed, I want to explore one single idea that has greater influences than all the other changes in baby’s life at this time. It’s a change that is mostly overlooked completely.
It is the introduction of solids.
Food has a massive impact on your baby’s body and can disturb their sleep to the point that they are no longer getting restful deep sleep. And this aspect of sleep is really important for our fast-developing little ones.
Not all babies will experience this, but 50% of them will. And it is completely natural, and there is something you can do about it when you understand it. It’s seen more frequently in babies who have had reflux or CMPA (Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy), yet it is not exclusive to these babies and can affect anyone.
It’s the natural immaturity of your baby’s digestive system not being able to fully digest the foods they are eating.
More specifically, it’s the types of food baby is eating and how their body is able to digest it. We tend to believe that our babies can eat anything once they start solids, but the question really should be “can they digest it?”
The image to the left is an extract from The Baby Reflux Lady’s Survival Guide which explains in detail the development of baby’s digestive system from birth to two years.
A bulletin from the World Health Organisation in 1989 outlined the natural development of baby’s digestive system, and critically highlighted the considerably low levels of amylase – the primary enzyme for the breakdown of carbohydrates.
This means that many babies simply do not have the ability to break down either the type of carbohydrates that they are eating, or the volume of them that they are eating. The result is the same. These foods ferment in baby’s gut producing carbon dioxide as a by-product, in simple words – they make farts. This gas can be created high up in the small intestine which means it has a long way to travel through baby’s gut before emerging in either as a “silent smelly” or a “daddy fart”!
This gas, bloating and trapped wind disturbs baby as they try to sleep, they cannot seem to get comfortable, they may do laps of their cot and be extremely restless all night. The reason is that they are trying, even in their sleep, to move that gas out of their body because it is not comfortable. And without restful sleep, their little bodies simply cannot rest and relax into deep sleep, the sleep they need for physical repair and muscle building. So they may seem to be getting more tired and irritable during the day.
So why can your baby have trapped gas at night and retain the ability to have monster naps during the day? Because they are moving during the day time, and all movement, whether up and down on mum’s shoulder, sitting and leaning over things putting gentle pressure onto their tummy, or jumping in a bouncer, all of this movement helps move the air through their gut so that it isn’t stuck by the time they go to nap, so they can rest peacefully.
They answer lies in changing their food, and adopting a mindset shift for us as parents. We feel full when we eat carbohydrates, yet anyone who has ever tried a ketogenic diet (high fat, low carb diet) will tell you that this need to feel full is actually a learned behaviour.
A baby's digestive system is designed to get between 55 and 60% of their energy intake from fat sources, not carbohydrate. In fact, good fats are an awesome source of energy for little ones, especially for those who don’t eat huge volumes of food because in every gram of fat there are nine calories, versus only four calories in gram of protein or carbohydrate.
Another important reason that babies are designed by nature to be fat-digestion-machines is that they are busy building their brains, and the primary building block for the brain is fat. While glucose (carbohydrate) is the main fuel for the brain, fats are the building blocks, and for a solid foundation to be laid down, our children need good fats, in higher proportions than the standard diet allows.
If your baby is very restless at night, give this a try: remove all complex carbohydrates from their diet – this includes white and sweet potatoes, porridge and wheat. Allow them to eat a much of the other foods they want, and see if they are more settled overnight.
In truth, there is more to a baby’s diet than removing carbs, we must change their diet to support their body rather than irritate it. And when we do, the changes we see in our little ones are astounding.
Babies who can’t sit still, sit still. Babies who are whiny become happy in their own presence. Toddlers who are clingy suddenly become independent and curious. All these changes simply happen because their body, their gut, is not being annoyed or irritated. And this reduced irritation means less risk of unseen inflammation and a stronger foundation for life-long health.
For more information, visit The Baby Reflux Lady.
Áine Homer is the voice of unsettled babies, advocate for parents and a specialist in baby reflux, colic and allergies. As a mum of two, who between them were diagnosed with colic, reflux, silent reflux, CMPA, tongue-tie and other food intolerances and allergies, Áine has experienced the “trial-and-error” approach of the medical community with no real answers or support. Her unique background of Traditional Chinese Medicine coupled with mechanical engineering and project management gave her the ability to search for underlying patters for the causes of her daughters’ discomforts.
?Within weeks she had changed her baby's life, and her own. Her recovery from post natal depression was driven by a vow that no mother should ever have to feel like she did. She would create a world where no mum would feel like she did and no baby would be left suffering for months on end.
The approach Áine now takes with all babies, is to answer the question “What is causing baby’s discomfort?” Once this simple question is answered, specific actions can be taken to resolve baby’s discomfort and reflux for good.
Áine wrote The Baby Reflux Lady’s Survival Guide so that every family would have access to all the information about reflux that they need to help their babies.