Rice cereal is a very common first food, in fact, it was my oldest's first solid food. I remember tentatively spooning watery mush cereal into his mouth. He seemed so confused by it, half the time he spit it out, and he didn't seem to enjoy it. I know now that he wasn't ready for solids, let alone rice cereal. My second baby never got rice cereal, and subsequent babies will not either.
Why not rice cereal, you may ask? Plenty of reasons -
- Rice cereal is nutritionally void: Rice cereal is very heavily processed. When the rice is processed it is stripped of all vitamins and minerals. When it it stripped of all of these important nutrients, it turns into, well basically, sugar in the body. It raises blood sugar and insulin, it can even be addictive over time!
- The added vitamins are harder for the body to absorb: The best thing anyone can do for their body is eat whole food in it's natural state. Your body can pull the most nutrients out of food that way. Since rice cereal is stripped of it's nutrition, it has some nutrients added back to it. These vitamins are not all of the vitamins and minerals that were taken from the rice, but some of them. They are not added back in to the cereal in the abundance that they are available from the whole rice form. Our body does not absorb supplemented vitamins as regularly as it does from whole food, so even if the box says it contains 50% of your babies Vit A for the whole day, their body will most likely not absorb the full amount of Vit A that it could have if it had been from a whole food substance.
- Young babies do not contain the enzyme in their gut that they need to digest grains: Yes, that is right. The intestines contain amalyse, an enzyme to help break down grains. In fact, babies don't make this enzyme in large enough quantities to help break down grains until over a year old! It is not produced until molars show up. When the gut can't break down grains, it can do a number on your baby, causing behavioral issues, food allergies, and many more problems.
- Rice cereal fills the belly: Sometimes when our babies start to go through their 4 month growth spurt, we start to worry. "Baby is eating all the time, is my milk gone?" "My baby is fussy constantly, he must be so hungry that he needs more then milk". No, this is not the case. 4 months is the age of a huge growth spurt. It is normal for baby to be fussy, grumpy, and eat a TON. That's okay, just sit back and nurse your baby. Moms will sometimes turn to rice cereal to help "fill up" the baby. That's bad, very bad. Infants need breastmilk as their main source of nutrition all the way to 1. Yes, even at 11.5 months your baby should be nursing more then he should be eating solids. Rice cereal sits in the belly and takes the place of nutrient rich breastmilk. That means that your baby is missing out on vital nutrients that he needs, because he is filled from a nutritionally void, starchy, sugary substance.
- Rice cereal does not make babies "sleep through the night" : This is a myth, a very large spread myth. True, some babies will sleep through the night after having rice cereal, but again, as the previous paragraph says, this is because it sits in the belly and is very hard to digest for a young baby. Babies need to wake in the night, in fact studies show that waking is the way a babies body prevents SIDS. Co-sleeping can help moms cope with night waking, cereal does not.
-Rice cereal contains added, artificial iron: This is the reason most pediatricians tout giving rice cereal to breastfed babies. They say that breastmilk does not contain enough iron. Breastmilk is low in iron, but the iron in breastmilk is very bio-available, meaning more gets absorbed then from cereal. The artificial iron in rice cereal actually blocks the iron from breastmilk from being absorbed! A much better choice is adding iron rich foods to your babies diet as they get older. Iron stores don't just magically run out the night baby turns 6 months.
Really there are not a lot of good reasons to start rice cereal, in fact I can't think of a single one. It is really not a healthy substance for anyone, but especially babies, to be eating.