During their first 6 months, most babies’ diets consist of mostly breast milk or baby formula. Sometime between 4 and 6 months, you may decide to start supplementing your baby’s diet with solid foods. Most babies’ digestive systems aren’t ready to process anything but milk or formula prior to 4 months of age, at the very earliest.
For years, many new parents have started their babies out on solid foods by adding rice cereal to their baby’s bottle. However, new research has provided several reasons why parents should avoid this method.
Solid Foods for Babies
Before the age of 4 to 6 months, babies are not yet ready to eat solid foods. It’s around this time that your baby’s digestive system can start to handle certain supplementary foods. They also usually stop using their tongues to push food around or out of their mouths.
Signs that your baby is ready to start eating solid foods as a supplement to breast milk or formula include when they:
- Can support their head steadily on their own
- Can sit upright without help
- Show interest in your food when you eat, at times moving their mouth around while watching
- Can grab at objects
Is Rice Cereal Safe to Put in a Baby’s Bottle?
Your baby’s first foods should be simple, one-ingredient foods with no added salt or sugar. For this reason, many new parents turn to cereals like rice, oatmeal, or barley.
It was once thought that adding rice cereal to a baby’s bottle at night would help them sleep longer without waking up to feed during the night. Recent studies now show that there is no reason to believe that this is true.
Babies usually can’t sleep more than 5 hours at a time at this stage. They also naturally wake up to feed, whether or not they are full. Not only does adding rice cereal to a baby’s bottle not keep them asleep, but it can also raise their risk of choking.
Adding rice cereal to your baby’s bottle makes the liquid thicker. Babies who get used to drinking thick milk like this might later develop a difficulty telling solid foods apart from liquid foods. This can make it hard for your baby to start eating solid foods.
Arsenic in Rice Cereal
Another risk associated with putting rice cereal in a baby’s bottle is that rice has higher levels of arsenic in it as compared to other cereals and grains.
Arsenic is a naturally-occurring substance in soil, water, and air. Rice that grows with trace amounts of arsenic in it can have lasting effects on your baby’s health.
Arsenic is a carcinogen that is linked to several different diseases. Even low levels, like those found in rice cereals for babies, can affect their development. Instead, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now recommends that you introduce oatmeal to your baby instead.
How to Feed Your Baby Cereal
No matter which cereal you decide to give your baby when introducing solid foods, you should never put it directly into the bottle for the reasons mentioned. Instead, you can feed cereal to your baby with a small baby spoon.
To do so, mix 1 tablespoon of single-ingredient, iron-fortified cereal with 4 tablespoons of baby formula or breast milk. Once your baby is sitting upright, offer them about a teaspoon of the cereal. This kind of feeding takes practice, so it might get messy. As your baby learns to swallow and manage the cereal, you can increase the thickness over time.
If your baby enjoys the food, try giving them a little more. If they aren’t interested or don’t like it, don’t force it. You can try it again in a few days.
Other Supplementary Baby Foods
It’s important not to introduce solid foods, like cereal or others, to your baby before they’re ready. Introducing your baby to cereal too early is linked to obesity later on in their life. There is also a higher risk of allergy activation, especially with cereals that contain gluten.
When introducing a new food to your baby, wait a few days to see if they develop symptoms of allergies or diarrhea before introducing another new food. Doctors recommend giving your baby foods with potential allergens when you start giving them supplemental foods. It’s a myth that waiting to introduce foods like peanuts, fish, or eggs can prevent food allergies.
Once your baby has mastered eating cereal, try giving them pureed fruit or veggies with no added ingredients. Only give them one kind of fruit or vegetable at a time. You can also try giving your baby pureed meat. Wait 5 days after introducing each food to check for a reaction.