Dr. Linda: “My 5-month-old is getting up every 2-3 hours at night now even though she had been sleeping through the night for a few weeks. Is she waking up because she is hungry? Should I feed her?”
Every child is unique, so there is not a one size fits all answer.
Knowing certain facts will make your decision making easier:
Most 5-month-old babies get all they need from a nutritional standpoint from breastmilk alone and won’t need solid foods till they are 6 months old.
Some babies will be ready to eat solids earlier and will show the signs of readiness for eating solids before they are 6 months old.
A general rule of thumb is: If your baby is at least 4 months old and is showing signs of readiness, you may want to explore starting baby foods.
Giving babies solid food before they are 4 months old does not generally lead to better sleeping at night, and, increases the risk of your baby choking and inhaling the food into her lungs.
4–6-month-olds go through a ‘sleep regression’, in other words, a developmental stage where from now on they will wake up every 2-3 hours at night. If you have taught your baby to fall asleep on her own, she will wake up, partially, maybe fuss a little, survey her environment and, if everything is ‘safe’, she will then go back to sleep on her own. If you make the mistake of waking her up and feeding her during these partial awakenings, she will start associating your presence and feeding with falling asleep. So, instead of going back to sleep on her own, she will start waking up and crying for you to come and feed her so she can fall asleep. This is a habit many moms create by accident and can be very hard to change later. This is why it is so important that you watch your baby closely during the day to look for signs of ‘solid readiness’ which we will talk about next. If your baby has the signs of ‘solid readiness’ then it may be time to start solids so she doesn’t wake up hungry at night. If she doesn’t, her awakenings may be a sign of the 4-6-month sleep ‘regression.
Signs that your baby is ready to handle solid foods safely without choking
Signs of ‘solid food readiness’:
Being ready for solid foods depends on your baby’s brain and nervous system development.
When your baby can do 3 of the following things, she is either fully ready or very close to being ready to protect herself from choking on solid foods:
She can hold her head up without support
She can sit up with your support
She is able to push herself up from the floor with straight arms.
When you put a spoon in her mouth, she curls her tongue back instead of pushing the spoon out
She leans forward and opens her mouth to let you know she is hungry. She will watch you like a hawk while you eat which may make you feel a little guilty for not feeding her
She can sit back and close her mouth to let you know that she is full.
She starts to wake up at night after having slept for 6-8 hours straight for a few weeks and will not go back to sleep until you feed her especially when you have taught her to fall asleep on her own.
This mom said her baby was not showing any readiness for solids so we focused on teaching her baby to self-sooth herself to sleep. So, this mom avoided starting any sleep associations she would regret later on.
Being present and really focused with your baby in every interaction you have, strengthens your bond and, will make it easier for your baby to teach you what she needs. You will not have to guess; she will show you.
How to Start on Solid Foods
Once your baby shows you she is ready for solids, you can start her off in many ways:
Baby oatmeal or mixed cereal fortified with iron
This is where you blend the food into a smooth puree by adding water, breastmilk or formula. You will start feeding your baby the puree out of a spoon.
More lumpy purees or mashed foods
As your baby advances or if she doesn’t like smooth purees, you can try making them lumpier and give them more texture.
which are bigger pieces of soft foods your baby can feed themselves i.e. baby-led weaning
What is baby-led weaning?
Baby-led weaning means that you don’t use purees or mashed foods but start your baby off on finger sized chunks of soft foods and let her feed herself from the start .
You start any way that feels comfortable to you or mix different ways of feeding your baby different foods.
There really is no right or wrong way – the most important thing is that you give your baby a wide variety of foods so she gets all the nutrients she needs.
Once your baby is ready for solids you are both setting off into a whole new world of exploration as you slowly and thoughtfully introduce your baby to the many varieties of foods she can get to know and enjoy over time. Have fun with this!
You can buy ready-made baby foods or make them yourself. Follow my future blogs for a lot more on introducing foods to your baby and advancing her diet.
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