“Will putting cereal in my baby’s bottle help him sleep better?”
I hear that all the time. I know it’s an old wives’ tale. Your grandmother probably told you, “Put cereal in the breast milk or the formula, and this baby will sleep all night.” In reality, this is not true.
There’s a lot of evidence that suggests starting solids too early can lead to some allergies in the future, and a young child with allergies for their entire life is much harder to handle than a crying baby for a few months, so you want to be very careful and cautious about when you introduce solids to your baby.
The rule of thumb around solids is anywhere between the fifth and sixth month, not before. I know it’s so tempting when you’ve got a three or four-month-old baby who is up every hour, hour and a half throughout the night, and you’re thinking, “What can I do?” You are absolutely exhausted, and you just want some relief!
You’re grasping at straws thinking, “Is there anything I can do to help this baby sleep well?” The truth is food is not the problem unless you’ve got a baby who’s been struggling with weight and has any kind of health issues. Then, yes, food might be the issue. They’re waking through the night and look for food because they truly need it. But this is not the norm.
For any healthy baby who’s gained weight well, food is not the problem. You need to look at how this baby falls asleep initially. The answer usually lies at the “how” of sleep.
If Food Isn’t the Problem, What Is?
Most of the time it’s that they’re rocked to sleep. They’re fed to sleep. They’re bounced to sleep. Or any number of ways that you use consistently to get them to sleep. What they have done then is associated the feeding, the bouncing, and the rocking with sleep.
Then, an hour and a half, two hours into their night they’re going to have a wake-up. That is normal and natural. There’s no way around that. Everybody has wake-ups through the night. However, if they’re used to being fed, bounced, rocked, you name it at bedtime, then they’re going to wake through the night looking for that again.
For example, feeding: that is hands down the number one reason why babies are waking through the night and not falling back asleep easily – because of the association between the feeding and the sleep, not the food. That gets confusing. I get it.
We all have a nightly routine that helps us fall asleep. We brush our teeth, read a bit, and/or browse social media, but unlike adults, babies don’t realize when they should just roll over and go back to sleep, they need that routine every time.
You think your baby’s waking up from hunger, but really it’s the strategy that that baby is using to get himself to sleep every night. It’s nice that he gets food with it. That’s a little bonus, and I’m sure he appreciates it, but it’s more about the strategy.
So before you run to the store, buy yourself some cereal and give that a try, I want you to stop yourself and have a good look at the “how” of your baby’s nightly routine. That is the first place you need to start to teach him to sleep well and through the night.