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As Léo J. Burke aptly put it, "People who say they sleep like a baby usually don't have one". Sleep is a precious commodity amongst those of us with little ones at home, and I don’t know about you, but we’re always looking for new ways to catch some more Z’s!
One tip you’ve likely heard about from your Grandma or perhaps online forums is adding rice cereal to your baby’s bottle to help them have a sound sleep. So, what’s the deal? Is this purely an old wives' tale, or is there some factual basis to this?
In this article, we will be covering the ins and outs of rice cereal, touching on whether it is safe to consume, when it should be introduced, and more!
Is it Safe to be Adding Rice Cereal to Formula or Breast Milk?
We understand that putting rice cereal in your baby's bottle can seem like a logical thing to do either to satiate your hungry baby or to improve their sleep, but it turns out that it doesn't hold up to scientific scrutiny.
In fact, mixing any kind of cereal into your baby's bottle is generally, not a good idea. Although, in special circumstances, your pediatrician may recommend that your mix rice cereal into a bottle to help treat gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
When introducing solids in general, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends waiting until your baby is 6 months. Introducing solids before this period increases the chances of your baby experiencing a variety of behavioral and health complications.
For instance, your baby may develop impaired self-regulation of hunger and satiety. It can also increase your baby's caloric intake which could lead to gaining excess weight.
Will Adding Rice to my Baby’s Bottle Help Them Sleep?
Babies wake up in the middle of the night for a whole host of different reasons, they could be uncomfortable, excited, or hungry, and their sleep schedules are naturally irregular. This means that making them full before bed won't guarantee a longer sleep.
Adding rice cereal to a baby's bottle is not recommended as a method to help them sleep longer, according to health professionals, due to potential risks like obesity, aspiration, and digestive issues.
Will Adding Rice to My Baby’s Bottle Stop Their Reflux?
Adding cereal to a bottle for reflux treatment should only be done under the supervision of a healthcare provider. In some cases, pediatricians may actually recommend thickening formula with rice cereal as a treatment for severe gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) in infants, although this is generally not the first line of treatment.
Reflux is quite common and happens in healthy babies all the time. It's generally not a cause for concern, and anti-reflux infant formula is not usually necessary, as long as your baby is content, and gaining an appropriate amount of weight.
However, if your baby is dealing with severe reflux, your doctor may recommend special formula to help manage this. They are often made with a natural thickening agent derived from carob fruit, which has a dense consistency that helps your baby keep food in their tummy thereby reducing regurgitation and vomiting!
Potential Problems Caused by Adding Cereal to a Bottle
Not only is adding rice cereal to your baby's bottle without a doctor’s instructions not helpful for getting them to sleep better or managing their reflux, but it can also be dangerous and cause various health problems.
Here's a list of complications that can arise from adding cereal to your baby's bottle:
You should only introduce solid foods when your little one is ready and the timing may differ between babies. As mentioned above, 6 months of age is a good time to start. Parents should be aware that introducing solid food before this point can lead to problems down the line, such as nutrient imbalances, digestive issues, and childhood obesity.
There are signs you can keep an eye out for that indicate your little one may be ready for their first bites of solid food. If you're ever unsure if it's the right time for solids, it's always best to consult your pediatrician.
Signs Your Little One is Ready for Infant Cereal
The following signs can indicate that your baby is ready to start eating solid foods:
Can sit up alone or with support 🪑
Has the ability to control their head and neck 👶
Opens their mouth when food is offered 😮
Able to swallow food (Rather than push it back out) 😋
Brings objects to their mouth 👄
Tries to grasp small objects ✊
Transfers food from the front to the back of the tongue to swallow 👅
How to Start Giving Cereal to Your Baby Safely
We've already covered why you shouldn't serve baby cereal from a bottle, and now it's time to discuss how eating cereal can be accomplished safely. To feed cerealto your baby, ensure that they are sat upright, and then serve cereal with a small spoon. You can begin by doing this once or twice a day after formula or breastfeeding.
Gradually you can increase their serving sizes and adjust the consistency of the cereal by adding less liquid as they get older. It is best to start by offering a single-grain cereal, and of course, always follow the recommended package instructions for your cereal brand of choice!
Is Infant Cereal Healthy for Babies?
You may have heard that rice cereal isn't the best choice of first food because it can contain higher levels of arsenic, which can be dangerous if your baby eats too much. Compared to other grains, rice cereal can contain more arsenic, and for this reason, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends choosingoatmeal, barley, and multigrain cerealas an alternative instead.
What Alternatives Are There to Rice Baby Cereal?
If you're not a fan of baby rice cereal, no worries! There are plenty of other foods you can offer your little one. Any single-grain cereal is a good place for starting solid foods. Many parents turn to simple grains such as oatmeal, millet, or barley!
Here are some of our favorite single-grain products from HiPP and Holle 💞:
When looking for cereal, it's best to choose unsweetened iron-fortified infant cereal, instead of ready-to-eat cereals. After your baby is used to single-grain cereals, you can introduce them to more complex cereals with 2 or more grains. That being said, always keep an eye out for symptoms that may indicate your baby is developing food allergies when introducing any new food to your baby.
Here are some of our favorite cereals that are fortified with iron 💞:
Introducing solid foods to your little one is an exciting time, with so many new textures and flavors for them to try. While most parents choose to feed cereal as their baby's first solid food, according to The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), food does not have to be introduced in any particular order.
However, foods must be prepared safely and should be introduced one at a time to help monitor for potential food allergies. By the time your baby is 8 months old, they will likely be more comfortable eating and enjoying many different foods from infant cereals to meats, fruits, vegetables, and more! Below we outline some simple strategies for preparing all kinds of solid food safely for your child.
Here are some tips for preparing solid foods for your baby:
Mix cereals and mashed cooked grains with breast milk, formula, or water to make it smooth and easy for your baby to swallow. 🍼
Mash pureed vegetables, fruits, and other foods until they are nice and smooth. 🥣
Hard fruits and veggies, like apples and carrots, must be cooked first so you can mash or puree them with ease.👩🍳
Remove all fat, skin, and bones from poultry, meat, and fish, before cooking. 🥩
Remove seeds and hard pits from fruits, and then cut the fruit into small pieces. 🥑
Cut soft foods into small pieces or thin slices. 🍽️
Cut cylindrical foods like hot dogs, sausage, or string cheese, into short thin strips instead of round pieces that could get stuck in the airway. 🌭
Cut small spherical foods like grapes, cherries, berries, and tomatoes into little pieces. 🍇
Cook and finely grind or mash whole-grain kernels of wheat, barley, rice, and other grains. 🌾
Many parents may think to add rice cereal in a bottle to solve their baby's woes, but hold on a minute! Contrary to popular belief, adding rice cereal to breast milk or formula is typically not a good move. It is unsafe to introduce rice cereal through a bottle and before your little one is of age.
So, what should you do instead? Wait until your baby is 6 months old before offering them cereal or other first foods, and don't take any solid food shortcuts like putting rice cereal in a bottle.
Please be aware that this information is based on general trends in babies, and it is not medical advice. Your doctor should be your first source of information and advice when considering any changes to your child’s formula and when choosing your child’s formula. Always consult your pediatrician before making any decisions about your child’s diet or if you notice any changes in your child.
Breastfeeding is the best nutrition for your baby because breast milk provides your child with all the essential nutrients they need for growth and development. Please consult your pediatrician if your child requires supplemental feeding.
Dr. Agustina Fernandez earned her medical degree from the prestigious Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, Argentina. With a deep-rooted passion for pediatrics, Dr. Fernandez is currently on the path to specializing in children's healthcare. Recently, she has delved into the vital field of infant nutrition. Her research interests include breastfeeding, infant formula, and baby food in little ones’ formative years. Dr. Fernandez's commitment to this area of study underscores her dedication to ensuring the health and well-being of children from their earliest days.
Dr. Hsu received his medical degree from Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, and holds a Master’s of Science degree from both Harvard University and Tufts University.
Dr. Hsu did research in MRI neuroimaging research of fetal brains at Boston Children’s Hospital, an affiliated hospital of Harvard Medical School. Dr. Hsu is currently a full-time medical writer and consultant.
Outside of the medical profession, Dr. Hsu loves to write, learn new languages, and travel