Rice Cereal as a First Food: Yes or No?

baby eating rice cereal
Image via Mindi Stavish

When your baby is six months old, he or she will begin the transition to solid foods. Some parents may choose to introduce their baby to foods with the Baby Led Weaning method. Others, however, may choose the more traditional method of introducing pureed baby foods—typically starting with rice cereal.

Dr. Alan Greene, pediatrician and father of four, started the White Out movement in 2011 to educate parents, pediatricians, and retailers about the need to move away from feeding babies white rice cereal, as well as getting it off the grocery store shelves. The main ingredient in white rice cereal is processed white flour, which a baby's metabolism can not break down effectively. Dr. Greene further stated that feeding a baby white rice cereal is essentially like feeding them a spoonful of sugar.

Experts believe that an infant's taste for starchy foods leads to childhood and adult cravings for white flour foods, such as breads and cakes. This in turn increases a child's risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity later in life.  

So, if rice cereal is unhealthy for a baby, then why have we been feeding it to babies for years and years? Rice cereal first hit the market about fifty years ago when women started heading back to work, thus putting demands on their time. Also at that time, industrial food production began putting chemicals into foods that created a longer shelf life, leading to foods that were inexpensive and easy to prepare. Additionally, factories began creating baby food and formula that were advertised as healthier for babies than milk and unprocessed food. Marketing agencies convinced the nation that parents could not do a good enough job feeding their children a healthy balanced diet.

Many pediatricians recommend white rice cereal as a first food because it is gluten free and bland. However, in 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a clinical report stating that there is no research to back up the theory of holding off on certain high allergy foods until a baby is one year old. Additionally, many pediatricians, including Dr. Greene, strongly believe that feeding white rice cereal to a baby as a first food leads to an increased risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes later in life.

The idea that it is essential to feed babies bland food is a myth. In reality, breastfed babies are introduced to a wide variety of flavors through mom's breastmilk. There is no reason not to introduce babies to a wide variety of flavors while they are learning how to eat solid foods.  

Another argument that pediatricians make in the case of giving babies rice cereal as a first food is that it contains essential iron that an infant does not get from formula or breastmilk alone. However, a healthy full-term infant has enough iron stores in their body for the first six months of life. Current research is showing that some babies have enough iron stores to last from 6 to 12 months, particularly breastfed babies.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends introducing a baby to foods rich in iron, including winter squash, sweet potatoes, prune juice, meat, and much more. Additionally, regular whole grain cereals, such as oatmeal, are a much better option than white rice cereal. A baby's first food does not have to be cereal. A better option is to introduce a child to foods that he or she has seen the parent eat. Great first foods include mashed bananas, avocados, and sweet potatoes.      

What are your thoughts on rice cereal as a first food?  

What do you think?

Rice Cereal as a First Food: Yes or No?

Mindi is a working mom with three boys ages 4, 2, and an infant (born June 2013). She spent her first 8 years of her career in Speech-Language Pathology at a Children's Hospital. She currently works with adults and children in home health. The real fun for her happens when she is at home with her boys, chasing them around and pretending to be a super hero. She blogs about life as a working mom at Simply Stavish. Her weekly feature, Words in the Sand, teaches parents how to grow their child's s ... More

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4 comments

  1. Jennifer says:

    There’s so much pressure from others telling you how to feed your baby. At 4 months people were telling me to give my daughter cereal when she wasn’t ready. I’ve learned with the second child that you have to pay attention to what your LO needs and not always listen to what others think you should do.

  2. Lulu says:

    My daughter didn’t really like the rice cereal. We had to disguise it in other foods (nope, not even mixed in her baby milk would she take that cereal!).

  3. BuZyMama says:

    My opinion is that whether serving rice cereal is healthy or not, is just personal preferance. My whole family was raised with white rice and we all are healthy. I used both cereal and table food to feed my baby.

  4. Kahle says:

    My daughter had plain green peas for her first meal right at 6mo, she actually ate 1 or 2; she’s 2 now and has never had baby cereal, we’ve always just fed her what we were having made safe for her to handle. Seems to have worked out well, though she’s been getting pickier lately.

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