Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Association between the faecal short-chain fatty acid propionate and infant sleep


The gut microbiota harvests energy from indigestible plant polysaccharides, forming short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that are absorbed from the bowel. SCFAs provide energy—presumably after easily digested food components have been absorbed from the small intestine. Infant night waking is believed by many parents to be due to hunger. Our objective was to determine whether faecal SCFAs are associated with longer uninterrupted sleep in infants. Infants (n = 57) provided faecal samples for determining SCFAs (7 months of age), and questionnaire data for determining infant sleep (7 and 8 months). Linear regression determined associations between SCFAs—faecal acetate, propionate and butyrate—and sleep. For each 1% higher propionate at 7 months of age, the longest night sleep was 6 (95% CI: 1, 10) minutes longer at both 7 and 8 months. A higher proportion of total faecal SCFA as propionate was associated with longer uninterrupted infant sleep.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Get just this article for as long as you need it


Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout


  1. Martin J, Hiscock H, Hardy P, Davey B, Wake M. Adverse associations of infant and child sleep problems and parent health: an Australian population study. Pediatrics. 2007;119:947–55.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Bernier A, Carlson S, Bordeleau S, Carrier J. Relations between physiological and cognitive regulatory systems: infant sleep regulation and subsequent executive functioning. Child Dev. 2010;81:1739–52.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Crocetti M, Dudas R, Krugman S. Parental beliefs and practices regarding early introduction of solid foods to their children. Clin Pediatrics. 2004;43:541–7.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Morrison D, Preston T. Formation of short chain fatty acids by the gut microbiota and their impact on human metabolism. Gut Microbes. 2016;7:189–200.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Daniels L, Heath A, Williams S, Cameron S, Fleming E, Taylor B, et al. Baby-led introduction to solids (BLISS) study: a randomised controlled trial of a baby-led approach to complementary feeding. BMC Pediatrics. 2015;15:179.

  6. Taylor R, Williams S, Fangupo L, Wheeler B, Taylor B, Daniels L, et al. Effect of a baby-led approach to complementary feeding on infant growth and overweight: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Pediatrics. 2017;171:838–46.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Jensen M, Cox R, Jensen B. Microbial production of skatole in the hind gut of pigs given different diets and its relation to skatole deposition in backfat. Anim Sci. 1995;61:293–304.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Sadeh A. A brief screening questionnaire for infant sleep problems: validation and findings for an internet sample. Pediatrics. 2004;113:e570–e7.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Leong C, Haszard J, Lawley B, Otal A, Taylor R, Szymlek-Gay E, et al. Mediation analysis as a means of identifying dietary components that affect the fecal microbiota of infants weaned by modified baby-led, compared to traditional, approaches. Appl Environ Microbiol. 2018;84:e00914–18.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Canfora E, van der Beek C, Jocken J, Goossens G, Holst J, Damink S, et al. Colonic infusions of short-chain fatty acid mixtures promote energy metabolism in overweight/obese men: a randomized crossover trial. Sci Rep. 2017;7:2360.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors would like to acknowledge all the families who participated in the BLISS study, as well as the research staff involved from the Departments of Human Nutrition, Medicine, and Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Otago.



This study was supported by Lottery Health Research, Meat & Livestock Australia, Karitane Products Society, Perpetual Trustees, High Value Nutrition Science Challenge, New Zealand Federation of Women’s Institutes and the University of Otago, with in kind contributions from Heinz Watties, Ltd; and by a fellowship from Karitane Products Society (RWT).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Anne-Louise M. Heath.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Heath, AL.M., Haszard, J.J., Galland, B.C. et al. Association between the faecal short-chain fatty acid propionate and infant sleep. Eur J Clin Nutr 74, 1362–1365 (2020).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links