Starting solid food Myth – Rice cereal is the best first food for practice and will help your child sleep.
Rice cereal is a highly processed food that when prepared as cereal is far from its natural state. There are very few calories in rice cereal and it serves no nutritional value to the body or the gut. The reason rice cereal is often recommended first is because in the processing it is iron fortified (iron is added to it). Most newborns have sufficient iron stored in their bodies for about the first 6 months of life (depending on gestational age, maternal iron status, and timing of umbilical cord clamping). By 6 months, however, babies require an external source of iron apart from breast milk. (Formula contains iron, so it’s less of a concern for formula-fed infants.) Babies need 11 mg of iron per day for normal growth and development, and iron is vital for brain health and red blood cell production. Though rice cereal is fortified with iron, it’s a kind that doesn’t absorb well.
There is also no evidence that rice cereal has a positive impact on baby’s sleep, as it doesn’t digest any slower than milk does. Adding cereal to the bottle is also a huge choking risk.
Rice cereal is not the best first choice for baby food and may be something you want to avoid. Rice absorbs high levels of arsenic (which is poisonous) from the soil. Ingesting even small amounts can damage the brain, nerves, blood vessels, or skin. In 2012, the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) came out with a report that said babies who eat two servings of rice cereal a day could double their lifetime cancer risk.
There are other, better first food choices. Spinach and broccoli are naturally high in iron, as are legumes like peas, chickpeas, lentils and beans. Turkey and red meat are very good sources of iron.