Sleep & Nutrition often go hand-in-hand and sometimes more than one would imagine. Adequate nutrition often plays a part in sleep quality and quantity as well as vice versa. A baby who eats well sleeps well and a baby who sleeps well eats well! While it isn't always the case that sleeping issues are linked to nutrition, below I will highlight 4 things to consider and what to take to your pediatrician should you have any concerns.
While sleep disturbances in little ones aren't always related to a feeding issue, they are often linked (Tauman). So what do I mean by a feeding issue? There are several factors to consider - how they are fed, when they are fed, & what they are fed tend to come up.
1 - Feeding Difficulties
Feeding issues or difficulties are most likely the culprits in the first few months of life if your little one has a hard time settling or sleeping. Breastfeeding challenges, bottle-feeding difficulties, or maybe even infant sucking or anatomical facial issues can all influence sleep. (Hookway 2018) Each factor can make it difficult for the child to assume adequate nutrition making for restless or little to no sleep.
2 - Nutritional Deficiencies
There are a number of nutritional deficiencies that have consequences to sleep. I will briefly list those but if you feel this is the case for you or your little one please speak with your health provider.
3 - Behavioral
Often I get asked, "does my baby still need to wake to eat at night, or is it just a habit?" Several aspects come into play regarding behavioral vs actual hunger. In certain cases, if your little one is eating frequently at night but not during the day, they could have shifted their necessary caloric intake to the night, resulting in definite hunger. If your little one is being fed to sleep, this generally results in the need to be fed back to sleep when they wake slightly throughout the night. This could be a mixture of behavioral and actual hunger. The other aspect that could be more behavioral is that it simply could have become a habit that they wake at that time every night. Just think about it, if you eat breakfast every day at the same time, your body will be hungry at that time every day. It can be the same for older infants, they wake because they are used to eating at that time every night and thus it has become a habit.
4 - Intolerances & Allergies
What are the general reactions we have when we are intolerant or allergic to something? We usually break out in a rash, have tummy issues, and in severe cases, wheezing or breathing issues. Who could sleep with a list like that? For infants, one of the most common intolerances or allergies that can affect sleep is an intolerance to cow's milk from formula (Kahn). Talk with your pediatrician if you have any concerns about intolerances and what to do should your little one experience one.
Do you feel nutrition is playing a role in your little one's night waking?
After delving into the topic with your pediatrician, IBCLC, or pediatric dietician (I know a great one!), I would love to help get your little one settled and into a healthy footing with sleep. By following the advice of your dr/lactation consultant, I will be more able to help your little one - and you - move towards age-appropriate sleep-filled nights.
Hookway, Lyndsey (2018) Holistic Sleep Coaching: Gentle Sleep Alternatives to Sleep Training for Health and Childcare Professionals
Kahn A, Mozin MJ, Rebuffat E, Sottiaux M, Muller MF. Milk intolerance in children with persistent sleeplessness: a prospective double-blind crossover evaluation. Pediatrics. 1989;84(4):595-603.
Tauman, Riva & Levine, Arie & Avni, Hadas & Nehama, Haim & Greenfeld, Michal & Sivan, Yakov. (2011). Coexistence of Sleep and Feeding Disturbances in Young Children. Pediatrics. 127. e615-21. 10.1542/peds.2010-2309.