Sleep: It’s something babies do inconsistently and something most parents are lacking. That’s why grandmother’s advice to put rice cereal in a baby’s bottle sounds so tempting — especially to an exhausted parent searching for a magic solution to get baby to sleep through the night.
Unfortunately, even adding a tiny amount of rice cereal to a bottle can cause short- and long-term problems. It’s also why the experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), recommend against the practice of adding rice cereal to a bottle.
Adding rice cereal to baby’s evening bottle is a common practice by many parents who want to fill their baby’s belly in the hopes it will help them sleep more. But the AAP, along with other feeding experts, recommend against this practice, especially as it relates to the issue of improving infant sleep patterns.
Gina Posner, MD, a pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, says one of the biggest problems she sees with adding rice cereal to a bottle is weight gain.
“Formula and breast milk have a certain amount of calories per ounce, and if you start adding rice cereal, you significantly increase those calories,” she explains.
Adding cereal to bottles can also be a choking hazard and an aspiration risk, says Florencia Segura, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician in Vienna, Virginia, especially if an infant does not have the oral motor skills yet to swallow the mixture safely. Adding cereal to bottles may also delay the opportunity to learn to eat from a spoon.
Additionally, adding rice cereal to a bottle may cause constipation as a result of a change in stool consistency.
Despite what you may have heard, adding rice cereal to your baby’s bottle is not the answer to better sleep.
“Rice cereal will not necessarily help your baby sleep longer, as older
More importantly, she says good sleep always starts with a bedtime routine as early as 2 to 4 months of age, which will help your child get ready for rest, especially once they start to associate the routine with sleep.
If your baby has reflux, your doctor may talk to you about adding a thickening agent to a bottle of formula or breast milk. The idea is that doing so will make the milk sit heavier in the belly. Many parents turn to rice cereal to make their baby’s food thicker.
A 2015 review of literature published in American Family Physician reported that adding thickening agents such as rice cereal do indeed reduce the amount of observed regurgitation, but also pointed out that this practice can lead to excess weight gain.
The article also noted that for formula-fed babies, offering smaller or more frequent feeds should be the first method parents should try to reduce reflux episodes.
Segura says adding rice cereal to a bottle should only be used when medically indicated for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). “A trial of thickening feeds for infants with severe reflux or children diagnosed with a swallowing dysfunction can be safe but should be recommended and supervised by your medical provider,” she explains.
While rice (including rice cereals, sweeteners, and rice milk) can have higher levels of arsenic than other grains, it can still be one part of a diet that contains a variety of other foods
Although it may help with GERD, Posner says that, due to the increase in calories, she does not recommend it. “There are special formulas out there that use rice cereal to thicken them, but still maintain the correct calorie ratio, so those are a more effective option,” she explains.
Many parents look forward to the day they can spoon-feed cereal to their baby. Not only is it a major milestone, but it’s also fun to watch their reaction as they take their first bites of solid food.
However, since a baby’s motor skills and digestive system need to mature before they are ready to process cereal and other foods, this stage of your baby’s development should not take place before 6 months of age, according to the AAP.
When your baby is about 6 months old, has control of their neck and head, can sit in a high chair, and they are showing interest in solid food (aka your food), you can talk to your doctor about introducing solid foods such as rice cereal.
The AAP says there’s no right food to start with as baby’s first food. Some doctors may suggest pureed vegetables or fruits.
Traditionally, families have offered single-grain cereals, such as rice cereal, first. If you start with cereal, you can mix it with formula, breast milk, or water. By the time solid food is being given more than once per day, your baby should be eating a variety of foods other than grain cereals.
As you move the spoon towards your baby’s mouth, talk them through what you are doing, and pay attention to how they move the cereal once it’s in their mouth.
If they push out the food or it dribbles down their chin, they may not be ready. You might try diluting the cereal even more and offering it a couple more times before deciding to hold off for a week or two.
The AAP, CDC, and many experts agree that adding rice cereal to your baby’s bottle is risky and offers little to no benefit.
Creating a healthy sleep routine for your baby will help them get more hours of rest and allow you to get more sleep too. But adding rice cereal to their bottle should not be a part of this routine.
If your baby has gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or other swallowing issues, talk with your pediatrician. They can help you strategize a method to manage the reflux and bring your baby relief.
Remember: Even though your baby may be struggling with sleep right now, they will eventually grow out of this phase. Hang in there a little longer, and your baby will grow out of it before you know it.