Reflux & Weaning: Can Food Affect Sleep?

Reflux & Weaning: Can food affect sleep?


Many parents are told that stopping breastfeeding and weaning a baby will improve sleep.

Is this true?

Can introducing food and starting solids help your child to sleep better? 


My Own Experience

When Daffodil (my youngest daughter and I) finished our breastfeeding journey (yay!), practically the following day, she caught a cold. Full-on runny nose, post nasal drip and nighttime coughing. I was so happy with finishing our journey in an easy way that I was totally blind to what was actually going on.


Yes, it could have been a cold. Her older sister Sunflower had a cold and various bugs she was picking up from school. So I was in awe of how powerful my breastmilk had actually been at protecting my wee Daffodil for the previous 2 years.

Soon after this, we went from Daffodil sleeping in her own bed all night every night, although she’s always woken during the night, to me actively taking her into my bed with me. I wasn’t doing this because I missed her waking me; it was because her breathing had started to get worse at night. She had started snoring more and every night, and then she started to stop breathing.

I was petrified! My little baby would be snoring loudly, and then she would go silent. Her chest would continue to move, trying to pull air in, until about 15 seconds later, she would eventually gasp for air. This would repeat every 2-5 minutes for 2-4 hours. In fairness, it took me about 3 weeks of watching this every night to wait the full 15 seconds before moving her to get her breathing again.

 So she was back in my bed. I was propped up with numerous pillows in the corner of my bed in a way that she could sleep in my arms. When I would feel her stop breathing, I would nudge her or move her to start breathing again.


Seeking support from the GP

Naturally, I contacted my GP multiple times.  Every time, I was told something slightly different:

  • The first theory provided was that she had a cold and that with the inflammation in her tonsils and/or adenoids at any one time. They said that this could cause airway obstruction and that if it continued once her cold had cleared up, then they would refer her for further assessment.

  • Next, I was told that she was fine because the muscles in the back of the throat just haven’t fully developed yet. This meant that at night, when said toddler is asleep and goes into deep relaxation, the relaxation of the muscles of the throat essentially causes it to close in on itself. She will be fine and will grow out of it.

  • Another thing I was told was some kids just have larger tonsils and/or adenoids, which take up a proportionally larger space in the back of the nose and mouth than in older children, and she will grow into them.

Over the last 5 months, I must have spoken to our GP every month about it on some level. I accepted these explanations every time from different doctors until about 6 weeks later.


Reaching my Limit

I got fed up of being exhausted. I got fed up with worrying. I got sick and tired of being given excuses and Daffodil not getting better. 

I was fed up of being told that my child wasn’t designed perfectly because I believe every child is perfect, and it’s their environment that screws things up. 

[Yes, there is a relatively small percentage of children who have genetic differences, which means they have illness and disease from the outset, but I refuse to believe that any child cannot thrive if given the best environment to live in.]

I had an epiphany. It came when I started writing my book on food intolerances and allergies. I suddenly remembered that I could never get Daffodil to eat eggs, and now she was happily eating them every morning. And her apnoea was particularly bad right now. I realised that she started eating eggs just after I stopped breastfeeding. 


A possible cause. So we cut out eggs from her diet, and guess what? Yip! A million times better that very night. And then, by accident, she had a slice of bread that had egg white powder in it, and another bad night happened.

So eggs were out again, and a drastic improvement was seen immediately. So I concluded at this point that eggs were likely a culprit, but not the only one, because she still had some breathing problems and apnoea.

So, it was time for me to print out my own food and symptom diary sheets and start doing some recording and pattern analysis.

I began the whole emotional rollercoaster again.

What can I feed my child?

What is going on for her?

Why are her symptoms not clearing up, and why the hell did she have the WORST night EVER last Friday night when I managed to get a total of 1:20 sleep?!!

(I know because my watch told me so!!).

So Daffodil began on a massive exclusion diet, and her sleep got better and better each night. 


I get it. I have been where you are now.

Believe me, when I say that I know what it's like to do food diary stuff, I have felt the emotional turmoil of “why the hell is this going on?” and “When will my child be able to eat normal stuff?”.

I watched my baby now be able to eat what her sister was eating. The heartbreak of going to a birthday party and having to have her own "special biscuits" as opposed to the yummy and fun birthday cake that all the other children were served.

It’s hard.

When your child knows they cannot have something but doesn't really understand why. To her, her sleep was her sleep. She didn't see anything wrong with it.


What I know now about food and sleep

Sleep apnea is not a good thing for babies and young children, and I am shocked about my GP not referring her earlier for some sort of assessment. Sleep apnoea in children is serious – it can reduce their IQ by 10 points and increase the risk of childhood obesity, as well as many behavioural problems, including aggression, hyperactivity, attention and learning problems. 

I’m still shocked that one of the first options for children with sleep apnoea is often the removal of adenoids and or tonsils.

Why is no one asking the question, “Why are these adenoids or tonsils enlarged?”

and what can we do about it?

Surely there is a reason for the adenoids and/or tonsils to be enlarged?

My understanding is that both the adenoids and tonsils are part of the lymphatic system, which is crucial in fighting illness.  Adenoids and tonsils are especially important in children as they are the first line of defence against respiratory illness.  As the child grows, these glands become less important as the rest of the lymphatic system develops into a highly functional system. So, I understand removing them later in life when they appear to be redundant. Still, I am not so sure about it as the first option. 

For me, I’m trying to see if we can identify why they are enlarged first and do something about that.  It may well be that a cold earlier this year affected them and that they have not shrunk since that, but with all the other symptoms of a runny nose at night and mucousy cough, I am inclined to think there might be something else going on instead.  It may end up that she will eventually need her adenoids out to allow her to breathe properly, but that, to me, is a last resort.


How can I help?

I have a number of options to help you. If you have started weaning and seen reflux flare, my online Solids Workshop is for you. If you are about to introduce solids but haven't started yet, let me help you from the very beginning with my Weaning Workshop.

For step-by-step support to ensure weaning your baby is as joyful as possible, the Reflux Free Weaning course was developed to hold your hand as you approach this important milestone with your baby. You’ll discover how to safely introduce foods causing minimum discomfort and exactly what to do if a certain food does impact your child’s reflux.

If you aren't sure whether your baby's reflux is diet-related or not, then the 'Reflux Free Baby' Workshop is the workshop for you. I walk you through all the symptoms you need to observe and record for your baby, what they mean, and how to use them as clues. The course is suitable for both bottle-feeding and breastfed babies who are suffering from baby reflux.

I tell you what the clues mean individually and when they occur with other groups of symptoms. 

And this leads us to be able to say what is causing each baby's reflux with much more confidence. 

Based on this, I tell you what specific action to take for them.

To get your baby free from their reflux as quickly as possible, sign up now. You will have your answer within an hour.

 Aine x


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