“A man finds out what spitting image means when he tries to feed cereal to his infant.
Your child is now 4-months old. You have survived childbirth. You have overcome diaper emergencies and nights without sleep. Feeding with breast or bottle is easier than it used to be – in fact, you’re a pro now.
Maybe it’s time for the next step. Perhaps it’s time to put on the bib (yes, you might need one, too) and offer cereal and other solid foods to your baby.
Is Your 4-Month Old Ready For Rice Cereal?
By age 4 months, many babies have the physical coordination that they need to swallow solid foods like cereal. Once they can push food to the back of their mouth, they may be ready to take cereal as a supplement to formula or breastmilk.
There are other physical signs that show your 4-month old may be ready for solids:
- Can your baby sit with support?
- Is your baby interested in what YOU are eating?
- Is your baby using his mouth to explore hands or toys?
- Can your baby hold their head in an upright position?
If these are true of your 4-month old, it may be time to start adding rice cereal and other solid foods to your baby’s diet.
How To Begin With Rice Cereal
Here is an easy way to start adding cereal to your baby’s diet:
- Mix 1 teaspoon of rice cereal with 4 teaspoons of breastmilk or formula.
- With your baby sitting upright after the usual liquid feeding, offer the mixture from a small baby spoon once or twice a day.
- Once your baby swallows the rice cereal easily, mix with less liquid and gradually increase the amount you offer.
- Other iron-fortified baby cereals such as barley or oatmeal can be introduced also. Introduce them one at a time and wait a few days before trying something new.
- Never add cereal to a baby’s bottle. Always spoon feed – and keep the bibs handy!
- Keep feeding the liquids as usual – up to 32 ounces a day of formula or breastmilk.
- Your 4-month old might spit it out or look at you like you’re crazy…but keep trying. Gradually they will get the hang of swallowing the runny cereal.
- Don’t force your baby to take the cereal. Perhaps your baby refuses more after one mouthful, shakes his head or seems uninterested. That’s okay – just try again in a few days.
- At the beginning, some moms give half a liquid feeding, offer some cereal, then finish the liquid feeding.
Why Rice Cereal?
- As he grows, a baby’s natural iron supply starts to wane. Fortified rice cereal is rich in iron.
- Rice cereal has a relatively low calorie count, but it is packed with nutrients.
- Rice cereal, followed by barley and oats causes less allergies than other grains such as wheat. Single grain cereals are the best kinds to offer first. Multi-grain cereals can be given later.
- Rice cereal has been used to treat GERD symptoms. Babies with GERD tend to spit up a lot. The extra weight of the rice cereal, mixed with formula, can help babies keep their milk down.
- Whether it’s true or an old wives’ tale, mothers are sometimes encouraged to feed their babies rice cereal to help them sleep better.
- Rice cereal mixed with formula or breastmilk helps add calories to a hungry baby’s diet. If a baby has doubled his birth weight, weighs more than 15 pounds, or feeds more than eight or ten times a day, he may be ready for more calories.
Can 4-Month Olds Properly Digest Rice Cereals?
To break down carbohydrates, a person needs salivary amylase. Newborns have low levels of salivary amylase. Between 3-6 months, salivary amylase increases significantly. Some reports show that 3-month old babies have 2/3 the amount of salivary amylase as that of a full-grown adult. These rising levels indicate that 4-month old babies can digest complex carbohydrates. Babies can digest a variety of grains, which should be offered as part of a healthy diet.
Is Rice Cereal Healthy And Safe?
Recent reports have raised questions about the safety of rice cereal. When it comes to our babies, we want to assure ourselves that what they’re eating is safe and nourishing.
Some reports have alleged that when rice has been tested, higher than normal levels of arsenic have been found. Baby cereal companies have tested their cereals and have reported that levels are within FDA guidelines.
Arsenic is found in many foods. The plant draws it in through its roots from the soil. Since rice is grown in water, it draws in slightly more than some other plants. The best way to minimize unsafe exposure to arsenic is to offer your baby a variety of iron-fortified grain cereals.
The jury is still out on the safety of grain cereals. Although baby rice cereal appears to hold higher levels, other grain cereals also have been tested positively for arsenic.
For baby’s healthy start, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends:
- Choose a variety of foods for baby
- Limit fruit juices
- Avoid excessive reliance on concentrated rice products, such as brown rice syrup.
What About Iron?
If you are feeding your baby breastmilk, it doesn’t contain lots of iron. However, the iron in human milk is easily absorbed and used by the body. Iron-fortified formula and cereals have more iron, but it is more difficult for the body to absorb.
Iron helps support healthy brain development, and two regular servings of fortified rice cereal can meet almost all your baby’s daily iron needs.
To allow better iron absorption, some recommend offering foods with naturally high levels of vitamin C. Some parents also give their babies iron supplements in drop form.
The following is a question about iron needs from a mom raising her baby in a vegan setting:
“I want to make sure baby is getting enough nutrition from the food I give her – particularly iron. I am currently iron deficient and taking supplements so hopefully she is getting enough from my breastmilk. Should I focus on mashing up cooked greens with sweeter foods such as fruits or sweet potato to help her eat them? Is there any research showing a risk of nutritional deficiencies for vegan or vegetarian babies? I really want to get this right…
Breastmilk alone can’t meet babies’ iron needs after 6 months, so they do need to start getting some iron and zinc from complementary foods.
- To meet the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for iron and zinc, you’ll probably need to offer some fortified foods, like breakfast cereals or infant cereal.
- Offering food high in vitamin C at the same time as the iron-rich food really helps iron absorption.
- Calcium inhibits iron absorption, so it might help to give calcium-rich foods at a different meal than the high-iron foods.
What Are the Other Benefits Of Rice Cereal?
Rice cereal contains essential nutrients that your baby needs for proper development, such as:
- Vitamins C, E, and six B vitamins
- Zinc and calcium
- Other essential vitamins and minerals.
White or Whole Grain Rice Cereal?
Pediatrician Dr. Alan Greene encourages parents to consider whole grain rice cereal for their baby. A popular TED speaker, author and global health advocate, Dr. Greene says, “Let every child’s first grain be a whole grain. There’s no good reason not to. They won’t mind. They’ll thank you.”
There are different viewpoints on white or whole-grain (brown) rice cereal for babies. Some say baby cereals made from white rice are safer and contain less arsenic contamination. As the FDA continues to investigate, we will see more regulations and reports on this issue.
Trends in Baby Cereals
You can recognize the standard baby cereal box sitting on store shelves. It’s the brand with the iconic baby face on the box. There are new boxes on the shelves as well. Here are some of the currently trendy baby cereals to consider:
Earth’s Best Organic Whole Grain Rice Cereal– Earth’s Best always uses organic, non-GMO ingredients. Their quality, whole grain cereals boast no added salt, starches or refined sugars.
Happy Baby Organic Probiotic Cereal– This multi-grain, organic mix is spiked with probiotics to support digestive balance. The cereal grains are a rich combo of oats, amaranth and quinoa.
Ella’s Kitchen Wakey Wakey Baby Cereal– Ella’s Kitchen was started by Paul Lindley –father of Ella. This multi-grain cereal is stuffed with rice, oats, maize and organic fruit puree.
NurturMe Protein Packed Quinoa Organic Infant Cereal– Quinoa can be a healthy, easily digestible alternative to rice cereal. Certified organic, kosher and non-GMO, this cereal also contains a daily dose of probiotics for baby.
Healthy Times Barley Cereal for Baby– One of the oldest consumed grains in the world, fiber-rich barley can be a single-grain alternative to rice cereal. Made from whole grains, this cereal is dairy and soy-free.
When do I Stop Feeding Rice Cereal to my Baby?
As already mentioned, one big reason for offering cereal is for the additional iron your child needs. By six months, natural iron reserves gained in utero are almost totally depleted. Rice cereal and other iron-fortified grains offer the necessary iron. But after your baby is eating meats, he or she is getting additional iron and vitamin B12. Iron fortified cereals may no longer be as crucial after your 1-year old is eating a variety of healthy, iron-rich foods.
When your baby is too sophisticated for the boxes of baby cereal sitting on the shelf, what can you do with them? Here are three ideas for using up leftover baby cereals:
- Make a facial scrub. Mix one scoop of coconut oil with rice cereal until it looks like a paste. Rub gently and completely over your face and let dry. Rinse and enjoy your soft skin.
- Make pancakes. Combine 1 cup flour, ½ cup baby cereal, and ½ teaspoon baking powder. Combine 4 eggs with 2/3 cup milk. Mix wet and dry ingredients separately. Cook as regular pancakes.
- Use leftover dried baby cereals as a substitute for breadcrumbs in meatloaf and other casseroles.
New Menu, New Schedule
Besides rice cereal, your 4-month old can also sample other mashed or pureed fruits and vegetables, such as:
- Sweet potato
- Mashed winter squash.
When your baby gets used to solids, you can establish a routine eating schedule. Setting a flexible schedule will ease your baby into the transition of eating meals together with the family.
Right now, your 4-month old can work up to two meals a day. Each meal can include two to four tablespoons of solid food.
By age one, your baby can most likely handle a pretty structured eating routine: three meals a day with two or three snacks in between. At 12 months old, liquid nourishment is just an add-on to a meal.
Whatever is on the menu, mealtime can become a great way to bond with your baby. Your 4-month old will begin to sense something special is coming every time you:
- Wash her little hands before a meal
- Soothe and comfort her
- Gently put on her bib
- Smile and talk to her
- Turn off loud noises.
Starting your 4-month old on rice cereal and other solids is a big milestone.
With a little patience, adding solid food to your baby’s routine can be a happy transition!