Is infant cereal (also known as baby rice) the best first food for baby? Are there alternatives to baby rice that may be a better option?
This page looks at the pros and cons of introducing infant cereal to baby as a first food, reveals some helpful information from other parents… and suggests some alternative foods that may be ideal for leading your baby into the world of solids!
Well, there are several reasons – the main one being that it is the first food most frequently recommended to parents by pediatricians and medical professionals.
There is also an element of tradition – after all, it was the first food that many of US received as babies and offering baby rice has become established and widely accepted as the ‘norm’ when transitioning infants to solids.
For quite some time, these reasons for introducing baby rice before other foods have not been greatly challenged – indeed, infant cereal is still one of the most popular weaning foods in the developed world.
More recently, however, parents are ‘reading up’ on infant nutrition and questioning commonly held beliefs regarding feeding practices.
With more information available – and parents being able to ‘compare notes’ via the internet – they are more likely to challenge pediatric advice regarding solid feeding issues than ever before.
Furthermore, the previously held notion that anything in a packet marketed for babies is automatically a healthy choice is beginning to fade away… and many parents have doubts over the necessity of those little packs of commercially prepared baby rice.
So let’s take another look at why baby rice is considered the best first food for baby – and what other parents have discovered after introducing infant rice cereal to THEIR little ones…
When we were small, our parents were often encouraged to begin feeding us solid foods from as early as 6 weeks of age.
Even now, some pediatricians and health professionals are still advocating the introduction of solids from 3-4 months of age, despite the fact that various organizations – including the World Health Organization and UNICEF – recommend that babies receive nothing but formula or breast milk for the first 6 months of life.
If you are introducing solids at 4 to 6 months, then the ‘blandness’ of baby rice – combined with the fact that it can be mixed to a very thin texture – may make it a suitable choice as a first food.
After all, some babies under 6 months of age may not be developmentally ready to deal with much in the way of texture (see Ready for Solids? for more information) – therefore, a particularly runny blend of milk and cereal would be more manageable.
Dad Richie Escovedo found that the ability to adjust the texture of baby rice worked very well for his little one and told us…
Mum Joanna Ruscella from Orlando, Florida, agrees, saying…
However, if you choose to follow recent guidelines to delay the introduction of solids until at least 6 months of age, then baby rice may NOT necessarily be the ideal choice as a first food.
In our experience, by 6 months of age babies are ready to experience some real flavour – blandness is certainly NOT a requirement at this point.
In fact, as we discuss on our page ‘Can My Baby Eat Spicy Food?’ – many babies experience herbs, spices and garlic from a very early age and absolutely adore these stronger flavours!
And, of course, texture should be less of an issue by 6 months of age.
Many babies have lost their gag reflex by now and are capable of managing basic purees at the very least!
Those parents who follow the principles of Baby Led Weaning and allow babies to feed themselves – rather than feeding them from a spoon – may even find their little ones coping wonderfully with actual ‘pieces’ of food.
Full term babies are usually born with adequate stores of iron. However, these deplete during the first 6 months of life and medical professionals usually recommend introducing iron-fortified cereal as a way of boosting these stores.
(External link for more information: Diagnosis and Prevention of Iron Deficiency and Iron-Deficiency Anemia in Infants and Young Children)
However, there is some controversy over this advice with regard to breastfed babies, because the iron in breast milk is extremely well absorbed. Some experts say that the iron stores of a breast fed baby are NOT necessarily deficient by 6 months of age and that the introduction of iron fortified cereal can lead to baby absorbing LESS iron from breast milk.
Neither may iron-fortified cereal be essential for formula-fed babies.
New research has discovered that the addition of very finely ground meat to a baby’s diet is extremely effective in boosting iron levels and may even be better than cereal (please read How to Introduce Meat to Baby for more information).
Indeed, the government website Healthy Canadians now recommends meat as one of the best first foods for baby, as – for some time – has the breastfeeding advocacy group La Leche League.
Or is it?
Whilst any food has the capacity to trigger an allergic reaction in a sensitive individual, baby rice has long been considered one of the foods least likely to do so. This makes it a popular choice for babies younger than 6 months of age, for whom the risk of an allergic reaction to foods is deemed higher.
However, startling new research published in the online edition of Archives of Disease in Childhood has called this claim into question.
A review of 31 infant allergy cases at Sydney’s The Children’s Hospital in Westmead, Australia – which took place over 16 years – found that baby rice triggered a reaction called food protein induced enterocolitis syndrome (FPIES). In fact, rice seemed to cause this disorder in more babies than either soy or cow’s milk, which were previously considered to be the most common causes.
Whilst no changes have been made to recommendations for the introduction of infant rice cereal as a first food, it is certainly worth noting that baby rice may not be as ‘low risk’ in terms of allergenic potential as previously thought.
Many babies are introduced to rice cereal with no resulting digestive issues whatsoever.
But this isn’t always the case and some parents do find that baby rice leads to constipation and other discomforts.
Mum Megan King from Pennsylvania was one such parent and told us…
Kate Burch from Oklahoma had a similar experience…
Of course, digestive problems caused by the introduction of rice cereal may be caused by introducing solid foods before 6 months of age, when baby’s digestive system is still a little immature.
Yet, as Mum Nancy O’Neill points out in her summary of her experience with infant cereal, rice is known for its binding properties…
Two of our children suffered constipation issues after consuming baby rice and we receive countless e-mails from parents who’ve discovered the same thing.
If your little one is prone to constipation then one of the alternatives to baby rice listed at the end of this article may make a far more appropriate first food!
This advice is often passed on to parents who are frequently woken at night by a crying baby. But is it really true?
Unfortunately, there is no clear answer to this question and we’ve heard mixed reports from parents.
We certainly wouldn’t recommend adding cereal to baby’s bottle, which is often the advice given to sleep deprived parents by well meaning friends and family. This presents a choking hazard – it can cause baby to consume more calories than he needs – and it can lead to digestive discomfort, as Mum Nikki Maxwell from California discovered…
Neither would we recommend introducing baby rice via the spoon to a baby under 6 months of age, purely on the basis that he is waking at night… it is more likely that he will suffer digestive discomfort as a result and that means even MORE sleepless nights for you both.
However, from 6 months of age the introduction of baby rice may have a positive effect on your baby’s sleeping pattern, although it’s worth noting that many babies naturally begin sleeping for longer periods during the night at this stage.
Mum Sharon Golubchik from Teaneck, New Jersey, certainly felt that rice influenced her son’s sleep…
There are a range of other foods that may make a good alternative to baby rice as a first food. Remember, though, that not all foods are suitable for all babies and you should check with your doctor first, as he is familiar with your baby’s family history.
Ultimately, the choice of the best first food for YOUR baby is yours to make, under the guidance of your pediatrician.
Whilst this article does not provide all of the answers, we hope that it has given you some useful information to help you make the best choice for your child… and to realize that baby rice cereal is not the ONLY first food available to your little one, but is merely one of a range of alternatives.
Do you have any opinions or experiences about baby rice that you’d like to share? Did you introduce a fruit, veggie or meat to your baby before anything else? Please tell us about it!
Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page…
I had five children all of whom are grown. I breast fed all of them back when few women did. I gave them rice cereal at 6 weeks and they slept through …
I have used baby rice as the first food for all of our little ones (my 5, plus I am caring for my 13th foster), but will definitely rethink the trend next …
We decided to use Thanksgiving to start our 4 1/2 month old on cereal.. She loved it (or the game of it) and then became fussy (nap time), so I took her …
I have followed the most common advice and given my first rice cereal. My second it caused constipation so I used oatmeal, and used oatmeal for my third. …
My daughter’s pediatrician recommended solids, after he rolled her on to her tummy and she held her head up, she was four months old. We wanted to wait …
I have personally been in childcare of some kind for over 20 years. I have dealt with birth to Kindergarten many times over and have mostly cared for infants. …
I wanted to wait as long as possible before starting my daughter on any solids whatsoever, including rice cereal. I am entirely gluten free, and also do …
Well, being an American in China with a small baby can be hard enough but add in the Chinese in-laws and you’ve got war!That’s pretty much how the …