“Children who do not start receiving complementary solids from four months of age are often hungry, sleepless and upset”
according to Dr Brian Symon, a GP known as ‘The Sleep Doctor’ amongst new parents in Adelaide’s Eastern suburbs.
As World Breastfeeding Week kicks off, Brian was splashed all over Australian media these past couple of days with his claims that some babies are being fed exclusively on breast milk for too long, at the expense of their and their parent’s sleep. He also raised the possibility that exclusive breastfeeding may be linked with increased incidence of food allergies if other foods aren’t introduced.
His advice is viewed as controversial by some, as it conflicts with the WHO’s recommendation that babies do best if fed only from the breast for the first 6 months of their lives.
Controversy aside, some couples claim he saved their sanity in the weeks and months after returning from hospital with their first child. Brian sees families in his general practise medical clinic, where he offers advice on sleep and feeding for infants but also consults in general medicine. In my family, we visited Brian on several occasions – initially with our first child in a desperate attempt to encourage self-settling after 8 months of increasingly poor sleep, and in the early weeks after our second child was born to set up some good patterns. (By the third one, we felt semi-competent.)
Although we didn’t apply everything Brian suggested, as a scientist I found it very comforting to get a feel for the natural sleep cycles of babies, and what we could reasonably expect in sleep and feeding behaviours.
Brian has published some of his data. You can read it for free online in the following papers (language is quite readable for general audiences):
- Feeding in the first year of life – emerging benefits of introducing complementary solids from 4 months in Australian Family Physician
- Reducing postnatal depression, anxiety and stress using an infant sleep intervention in British Medical Journal (Open)
He has also published a book, and related CD and DVD – see his website for more information.