“Will putting cereal in my baby’s bottle help her sleep better?”
I’m frequently asked this question. Someone, maybe your mother or grandmother told you, “Oh, put cereal in the breast milk or the formula, and this baby will sleep all night.”
We’ve all experienced trying to fall asleep on an empty stomach. So the idea of a little extra food in baby’s formula before bedtime or after a midnight wake-up seems sensible.
The Cereal Myth
Unfortunately, this is one of those old wives’ tales that gets handed down through generations. And you know what? You’re right to stop and ask “Will putting cereal in my baby’s bottle help her sleep better?”
Something to consider is that your baby might not be old enough to eat cereal. The rule of thumb about solids is that it’s safe to start introducing them into your baby’s diet anytime between the fifth and sixth month, but not before.
And when it comes to introducing your baby to solid foods, it’s good to take it slow and be selective about which types of food you choose. There's some evidence to suggest that starting solids too early can lead to future allergies.
I know how tempting it is to want to trust the advice of family and friends when you’ve got a three or four-month-old baby who is up every hour throughout the night.
And when you hear her crying at night and you know she isn’t sick, it’s natural to worry that she’s hungry. So the idea of feeding her again, and adding some cereal to ease those hunger pangs and help her sleep better, seems like a good one.
But the only time hunger is actually the issue is when you know you’ve got a baby who’s been struggling to gain weight or has any other type of health issue. Then, yes, hunger might be causing your baby to keep waking up during the night.
However, for healthy babies who are gaining weight well, food is not the problem.
So if hunger isn’t the source of her inability to fall back to sleep in the middle of the night, what is?
The Way Babies Learn to Sleep
Did you know that the way babies learn to go to sleep can affect how well they sleep?
Most of the time babies are rocked to sleep. Or they’re bounced to sleep. And many are fed to sleep.
But what begins to happen is that they associate the rocking, the bouncing, and the feeding with the actual act of falling asleep.
Now, for most babies, an hour and a half or two hours into the night they’re going to have a wake-up. That’s normal and natural. There’s no way around that.
Actually, most of us have wake-ups through the night. And over time we learned that if we roll over and relax, we’ll go back to sleep. (And if we don’t, we always have reruns on Netflix to bore us back to sleep.)
However, when babies have a wake-up, they actually can’t go back to sleep without their bedtime routine. Why? Because they’ve learned to associate being fed, bounced, or rocked with the act of falling asleep.
They haven’t learned another way to go to sleep.
Which brings me back to the idea of feeding a baby at bedtime.
This is hands down the number one reason why your baby wakes up during the night and is unable to fall back asleep.
She has learned to associate this nighttime feeding with both bedtime and sleeping. So when she wakes up in the middle of the night, she cries because she can’t fall back to sleep without her routine.
It’s confusing for her and exhausting for you.
Change Baby’s Bedtime Routine
So your baby has learned the bedtime feeding routine. It’s safe. It’s familiar. And for a little while it was working great for both of you.
But as she gets older your feeding strategy isn’t working as well. And you find yourself in the drugstore checking out serums that promise to make tired eyes look “well-rested and youthful” again.
What’s happening is that as baby grows older, the bedtime feeding routine becomes less and less effective because her body doesn’t respond the same way to the extra food. She doesn’t get drowsy right away and in some cases, doesn’t fall asleep. But the routine has become a familiar habit. And she expects it even when it isn’t working.
And that’s the real problem.
The good news is that there are other ways you can teach your baby to learn how to sleep without feeding. Here are just two examples:
1. Once or twice a week start placing her in her crib when she is tired but not actually asleep. This is one way to let her get used to falling asleep on her own without the feeding process.
2. As your baby gets older, help her stay awake both during and after feedings so that she stops associating melatime with bedtime.
There are plenty of additional ways to change up bedtime strategy so that your baby learns how to fall asleep without food, and also learns how to fall back asleep after a wake-up in the middle of the night.
And you won’t need to be up at midnight or 2am or 3:30am adding more cereal to formula or breast milk. Why? Because you’ll be too busy sleeping.
Are you curious about how to create a new bedtime routine for your baby that doesn’t involve feeding? I’d love to chat with you about how we can start teaching your baby to sleep comfortably through the night.
Give me a call at (209) 813-0609 or firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s work on a more personalized bedtime routine for you and your little one.
Jo Anna Inks
I help tired, frustrated parents get their babies sleeping through the night and napping well so everyone in the family can get the rest they so desperately need!