While you might be anxious to start feeding your baby solid food, he doesn't need it, in most cases, until he is 4 to 6 months old. Before that time, breast milk or formula provides all the nutrition he needs; introducing solid foods too early can cause problems later in life. While rice cereal is considered a traditional "first food" for babies, you can start with other cereals or even fruits or vegetables.
Talk to your baby's pediatrician. Ask him his views on when to start foods such as rice cereal. Most pediatricians recommend the time between 4 and 6 months of age because, before that time, your baby's digestive system isn't ready to break down complex carbohydrates like cereal. If he still has a tongue-thrust reflex, he'll simply push the food back out of his mouth without swallowing it. Starting solid food too early might also increase your baby's risk of developing allergies or diabetes later in life, according to Michigan State University's The Infant Feeding Series.
Watch your baby's reactions when you eat. When your baby is ready to try solid foods, he'll become very interested in what you're eating. He might try to reach out for food or smack his lips when he watches you eat. He'll also open his mouth when you bring a spoon close to him. He should have good enough head control to sit up in a seat or high chair before you start feeding him solid food.
Assess your baby's reaction to rice cereal or whichever solid food you give your baby first before giving him another type of food. HealthyChildren.org, the website of the American Academy of Pediatrics, suggests waiting two to three days before trying each new food so you can tell if a food caused a reaction. Although fewer children have allergies to rice than to other cereals, such as wheat, rice can still cause allergic reactions in some babies. Call the pediatrician if your baby develops a rash, is wheezing, vomits or has diarrhea after eating rice cereal.
Feed your baby a very small amount of cereal on the tip of the spoon rather than giving your baby a whole mouthful. Mix the cereal so that it has a thin consistency, similar to milk. Don't use cow's milk to mix with the cereal; babies should not have cow's milk until 12 months of age, as advised by the AAP. Around 2 to 3 percent of infants have an allergy to cow's milk, according to KidsHealth.
Tips & Warnings
- Don't add rice cereal to your baby's bottle unless your pediatrician specifically recommends it. Contrary to popular opinion, thickening formula with cereal or giving your baby solids early won't help him sleep through the night. Babies need their night feedings to continue to grow properly. Putting cereal in his bottle also presents a choking hazard for your baby.
- HealthyChildren.org: Switching To Solid Foods
- KidsHealth: Feeding Your 4-to-7-Month Old
- KidsHealth: Milk Allergy in Infants
- MedlinePlus: Cow's Milk -- Infants
- Michigan State University: Health Concerns for Feeding Solid Foods Too Early
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Food Allergies: What You Need to Know
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