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When to Start Baby Cereal?
Generally, for the first 6 months babies should be entirely breastfed or formula fed. Even once babies start eating solid food, “[t]hey still obtain the vast majority of their calories and nutrition from breast or formula feedings” (Greene, “Introducing”). When the baby is no longer satisfied after drinking a lot of breast milk or formula, usually between 4 to 6 months, a lot of parents start giving the baby cereal. (Please refer to “How Much” for the norm amounts babies drink.) Our son’s first doctor recommended giving our son some rice cereal when my son was four months old and seemed like he was very hungry, drinking 6 – 8 ounces every couple of hours. Iron-fortified infant cereals can help babies that “have increased caloric needs and are starting to deplete the iron they are born with” (Greene, When).
What are some signs the baby is ready to start solids? According to Dr. Greene,
- Baby still hungry after drinking (8-10 breast feedings or 32 ounces of formula in a day)
- Baby can lift and support her own head
- Baby weighs at least 13 pounds and has doubled her birth weight
- Baby has overcome the strong tongue-thrust reflex they are born with (“When”)
Always check with your baby’s doctor before introducing anything new to your baby. Please refer to "Baby Food," "Introducing Baby Food," and "How Much Should Baby Eat?" for more information.
Helps if Baby Has Reflux
When my baby was around 4 months, before I actually started giving my baby the cereal, my son stopped wanting to drink his bottle. He would only drink 2 – 3 ounces at a sitting and it was hard to get him to drink 20 ounces a day when previously he was drinking 6 – 8 ounces every couple of hours. I followed up with my son’s doctor as to why my son no longer wanted to drink. I was wondering if it was due to my son’s constipation and that he didn’t have room in his belly to drink since he was so constipated.
The doctor advised to give him some rice cereal since he said it may make him more regular. (I had read that rice cereal could make the baby more constipated (refer below), but since the doctor recommended it, I tried it.) The rice cereal did make him extremely constipated. Later, when my son was 6 months, after switching to a new pediatrician, my son was diagnosed with acid reflux. This doctor recommended putting cereal in my son’s bottles to help with the reflux. She recommended oatmeal cereal rather than rice cereal to help with the constipation. For more information on “Feeding Tricks” or information about “Acid Reflux” please refer to those articles.
The cereal may help with bowel movements by providing the baby more substance, but due to the iron and gluten the cereal could make the baby more constipated. As stated above, we primarily used the oatmeal cereal rather than the rice and barley cereal as that did not make our son as constipated. Refer below for more information on types of cereals.
Put Cereal in Bottle or Feed Directly
A lot of friends and parents may recommend adding cereal to the baby’s bottles to help the baby sleep longer. According to Dr. Greene, your “pediatricians says this is not wise (except as a treatment for reflux). Dietitians and nutritionists concur.” Some research states that adding cereal to the baby’s bottle will not help her sleep longer (Greene, “Baby Bottles”). Some parents, especially grandparents may counter this.
Feeding solids provide the baby with “a good opportunity to learn the process of eating and swallowing while their brains are primed for it” (Greene, “When”) thus if you only put the cereal in the bottle rather than feeding it to your baby, you are depriving your baby of this skill. We started feeding rice cereal to my son out of a bowl. Although, once we started giving my son about two tablespoons of cereal in every bottle, due to his acid reflux, we stopped giving it to him separately as he didn’t need to eat additional baby cereal and he was eating other baby food to provide him the necessary eating skills.
How to Mix in Bottle and How Much to Add
As stated above, if my son didn’t have acid reflux we probably would not have put the cereal in his bottles. Once we started putting the cereal in his bottles, we generally added about one – two tablespoons per bottle. We used a formula scoop which ours measured out to be approximately one tablespoon. My husband discovered that if you put the water in the bottle and then add the cereal, before adding the formula and mix up the cereal when you add the formula it mixes more smoothly and doesn’t clump. When we add the formula first the oatmeal tends to clump.
According to the Children’s Digestive Health and Nutrition Foundation, “one tablespoon of rice cereal can be added per one ounce of formula” to help babies with reflux. I didn’t read this until my son was over a year old and thus we were adding much less than recommended for a baby with reflux. A one to one ratio would make the formula mixture very thick. I would have definitely confirmed with my pediatrician if I should use that much. My pediatrician had mentioned that she use to give her baby the one tablespoon oatmeal per one ounce formula only when her baby’s acid reflux was extremely bad and then she would back off the amount of cereal she would put in his bottles after she got his reflux under control. She also said she had to do that since there were not acid reflux medications at that time. Please refer to this link for more information on acid reflux.
What Type of Cereal Should You Buy?
Most research suggests to start with rice cereal and then move onto other cereals like oatmeal and barley cereals. When we switched doctors, and I discussed that my son had constipation problems she recommended switching to oatmeal cereal rather than the rice cereal as she said generally most babies digest oatmeal cereal easier and are less constipated. We gave my son oatmeal cereal (rather than rice and barley cereal) after finding this information out.
When initially giving your baby cereal you may want to start with a rice cereal like HappyBellies which contains no wheat and no gluten as wheat is one of the common allergy type foods. A lot of sources recommend waiting until over a year to start the allergy prone foods. Food "such as cheese, yogurt, baby cereals, teething biscuits, breads, egg yolk, mild fish like wild salmon or cod, and tofu" can be started around nine months (Happy Baby 168).
Organic, Probiotic Cereal
Most brands have an organic cereal type such as Gerber or Earth’s Best. We did notice that the Earth’s Best cereal tended to be more clumpy when mixed in the bottle than the Gerber brand. I also really liked the HappyBellies organic baby cereals which contain DHA + probiotic immunity support. I usually would do one scoop of regular organic oatmeal baby cereal and one scoop of HappyBellies organic DHA+probiotic cereal. I used a mixture since we were giving my baby so much cereal, I didn’t want to give him too much probiotics; although I don’t know if you can overdose on probiotics. I was just trying to be moderate and stick to the normal serving size per the container of about 3 tablespoons per day.
Depends on Baby
As with everything baby related, only you (along with your baby’s doctor) will know when your baby is ready to start on solids including baby cereals. As with introducing all new foods, you need to monitor your baby to see what baby cereal she tolerates best. Please refer to "Baby Food," "Introducing Baby Food," and "How Much Should Baby Eat?" for more information.
Children's Digestive Health and Nutrition Foundation "CDHNF".
"Parent's Take Home Guide to GERD
(Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease). 1 Dec. 2009.
Greene, Alan M.D., and Cheryl Greene.“Baby Bottles and Cereal.” drgreene.com. 1 Dec. 2009.
---. "Introducing Solids." drgreene.com. 1 Dec. 2009. <http://www.drgreene.com/21_804.html>.
---."When Can Babies Start Solids?"drgreene.com. 1 Dec. 2009.
Sears, Robert W. MD., F.A.A.P. and Amy Marlow, MPH, RD, CDN. Happy Baby: The Organic Guide to
Baby's First 24 Months. New York: Harper, 2009.
Last Updated: December 2009