Nutrition and baby sleep
What your baby eats has a big effect on how your baby sleeps and to address baby sleep problems you need to look holistically at baby sleep.
The effect of diet on baby sleep is not to be underestimated.
It’s important to feed to appetite, feeding until the baby closes their mouth and purposely turns their heads away. Many parents are concerned they are overfeeding their babies. However, I’ve rarely seen a baby who is overfed.
For example, I’ve had babies eating half a Weetbix for breakfast at 6 months and a week following sleep training they have the appetite to eat 3 Weetbix and a whole banana. At 8 months Flynn ate 1.5 cups of a hearty meat stew, 2 whole chicken drumsticks followed by half a cupful of yoghurt and fruit. I know it’s amazing!
Baby Night sleep
To help your baby eat more solids it’s important to look at the night sleep first. For example, if your 10-month-old baby is waking at night and feeding 4-6 times, it’s logical they will eat little food in the day. After 6 months old babies do not nutritionally require a night feed. Long night sleeps are so important for development and 6-12 months is a critical age for mastering good sleep habits.
A baby needs a balance of 1/3 carbohydrates, 1/3 protein and 1/3 vegetables and 50% nourishing fats at breakfast, lunch and evening meal.
The carbohydrate needs to be low glycemic Index e.g. oven roasted pumpkin, butternut squash, sweet potato, wholewheat pasta, basmati rice, and quinoa. Low GI (glycaemic index) is digested slowly, keeping blood sugar levels constant, creating a feeling of satiety (feel fuller for longer).
Babies over 6 months and toddlers need a calorie dense diet. 50% of the diet needs to be comprised of fat for optimal brain growth. 80% of your baby’s brain is formed by 3-years-old and it is made of fat, so it’s logical it needs fat to grow.
Fat and dairy have at least double the calories of carbohydrates. Add grated cheese (400 calories per 100g) to pureed veggies, butter to savoury foods and toast (717g per 100g), mix ricotta or mascarpone (500 calories per 100g) into pasta or risotto to create a calorie dense meal. Think of how much activity your baby is doing. Therefore, we need to give enough calories to aid development.
Tryptophan and Baby Sleep
Tryptophan is the raw material (amino acid) that helps the body make the sleep-inducing neurotransmitters Serotonin and Melatonin. Dr Sears describes these foods as Sleepers and Wakers. Sleepers slow the brain down helping it get ready for sleep. Wakers rev the brain up getting it active and working. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland. It controls the circadian (sleeping and waking) cycle and is responsible for regulating other hormones as well. A deficiency of Melatonin can lead to weight loss in infants and children.
“Eating carbohydrates with tryptophan-containing foods makes this calming amino acid more available to the brain. A high carbohydrate meal stimulates the release of insulin helping clear those amino acids from the bloodstream competing with tryptophan. Allowing more of this natural sleep-inducing amino acid to enter the brain and manufacture sleep-inducing substances, such as serotonin and melatonin. Eating a high-protein meal without accompanying carbohydrates may keep your baby awake since protein-rich foods also contain the amino acid, tyrosine, which perks up the brain,” Dr Sears.
Breastfeeding and tryptophan
Breast milk has a higher tryptophan than some formula’s and can have an impact on sleep-inducing melatonin. This is why breastfed babies often fall asleep on the breast before going down to sleep at night. It’s important the baby goes down to bed fully awake so they know where they’re going down to sleep to avoid a sleep association likely to result in repeated night waking. Read more on non-nutritive breastfeeding and baby sleep regressions here.
To help make up this deficit we need to look at dietary intake of tryptophan.
Researchers at Thailand’s Khon Kaen University found that some tropical fruits have significant effects on melatonin production. The researchers found pineapples, bananas, and oranges were able to increase melatonin presence significantly. Pineapples increased the presence of aMT6s over 266% while bananas increased levels by 180%. Oranges were able to increase melatonin by approximately 47%.
It takes about an hour for tryptophan to reach the brain, so plan the timing of your baby’s meal for optimum performance. Include low GI carbohydrates and you’ve got a perfect evening meal to induce a lovely long sleep.
Make the bedroom nice and dark and so dark you can’t see your hand in front of your face. Melatonin is lowest at 5 am. If your baby’s diet doesn’t have enough tryptophan, protein, and carbohydrates of the right GI you may get early morning waking. Increase those nutrients and you may get a 6-7am lie in I see many babies getting…
This is why we need to look at baby sleep holistically otherwise we’ll never fix those pesky sleep issues.
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