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.
Breast milk or formula should be the primary source of nutrition for babies under 1 year old. The first foods we introduce to our babies are often called “complementary foods” because the idea is to introduce foods that complement breast milk/formula, not to simply replace milk.
Introducing solid/table/first foods should start when babys mouth and gut are ready to tolerate digesting them. Baby’s tongue thrust reflex should have disappeared, baby should be able to sit unsupported for at least the length of a meal, and baby should be using a pincher grasp to be able to bring their own food to their own mouth. This usually happens around 6 months, although for some it’s a little younger and others a little older. Food choices should be about exposing baby to a full palate of flavors and a wide variety of textures that add to baby’s feeding experience without taking away the nutrients and energy found in milk. The goal of complementary feeding is NOT to try to fill baby up with as much food as possible to cut back on giving breast milk or formula. It’s about baby gradually increasing the amount of foods eaten from your family’s unique diet across multiple months.
Cooked sweet potatoes, mashed avocado or banana, purée canned pears or peaches, and cooked carrots are wonderful first foods and simple to make. Next offer foods from your family table first (in the appropriate purée or cooked and cut form). Your baby has already been exposed to what you eat on a daily basis through your milk and they’ll have a higher likelihood of preferring those foods. Many foods marketed for babies, like rice cereal or oats, don’t actually add any nutritional value to baby’s diet. Read jarred food labels carefully for preservatives and sugar. There’s also a risk of filling your baby up with low calorie jarred foods which then decreases the amount of nutrient dense milk they will want to drink.
Remember: just as every family eats different foods and has their own unique way of doing meals, so does every tiny human. If you’re concerned about your littles eating habits, request feeding therapy with an occupational therapist at your next pediatrician appointment.
Remember: ⭐️ The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding until 2 years of age ⭐️ Breast milk never loses its nutritional value and is good for children at any age ⭐️ From 7-9 months babies need about 250 calories from food a day ⭐️ From 10-12 months babies need around 450 calories from food a day