The Truth About Baby Cereal (And What to Feed Instead)

Somewhere around 6 months, your baby may be showing signs of readiness for solids. But, is the pediatrician recommendation of baby cereal as first food really the best idea?

Let’s delve into the science behind baby’s digestion, when to introduce solids, and the best first foods for baby. You’ll see that rice baby cereal is not the best choice for baby!

What’s really in baby cereal?

Let’s first take a look at what baby cereal really is… because it’s not just plain rice. Since it’s usually made from white rice, there really isn’t any nutrition in it. As a result, it’s fortified with synthetically produced vitamins, like ferrous sulfate (iron), folic acid (vitamin B9) and ascorbic acid (vitamin C). Some manufacturers are offering organic rice baby cereal, but it’s not much better. The baby cereal may be from brown rice but it’s processed into a flake so that it’s quick to prepare (which spikes blood sugar levels) and smooth for baby’s palate (Source).

When is rice cereal recommended?

Most pediatricians recommend starting rice baby cereal at about 4-6 months old for baby’s first food. Some doctors will recommend it even earlier as a way to help newborns sleep. Mom’s are urged to add a little rice baby-cereal and formula to baby’s bottle as a way to keep him full and sleep through the night. There are a few problems with this recommendation though. Even Gerber, the popular baby food manufacturer recommends against putting rice cereal in your baby’s bottle! (Source).

Supplementing with baby bottles

If your baby is colicky and fussy at night, this could be related to digestion or latent food allergies (source). Lulling them to sleep with rice baby cereal is only putting a band aid on the issue. And if you’re breastfeeding and safely co-sleeping with your baby, nighttime feedings don’t require you to get up and lose a lot of sleep soothing a soothe a crying baby. I remember our nighttime feedings while co-sleeping were restful, peaceful, and no harder than nuzzling my baby a little closer.

Newborns stomachs are only the size of a hazelnut at first, and don’t hold much milk at one time. Their bodies aren’t designed to stay full for 8 hours at night (Source). In fact, in this study babies who were fed rice baby cereal before 4 months slept less than the babies who weren’t fed solids!  Food is supposed to energize us. When your baby is excessively sleepy after eating solids, it may mean that his body is diverting energy resources to digestion because  he is overfed. (Kinda how you feel after overindulging at Thanksgiving dinner!) (Source).

Why rice baby cereal is not good

High in the toxin arsenic

Arsenic is naturally found in soil and water, however it can become concentrated due to conventional farming practices. When pesticides and herbicides are used on fields, the runoff contaminates the soil and local water with arsenic. This irrigation water is then flooded over the rice fields for long periods of time.

Arsenic accumulates in the soil and water, and rice absorbs more arsenic compared to other crops. Even organically grown rice is susceptible to high levels of arsenic contamination because of the necessary growing environment, and the high levels of pesticide runoff in our modern environment. Both white and brown rice were found to contain arsenic…

Concentrations of arsenic were twice as high in the urine of infants who ate white or brown rice than those who ate no rice, according to research published in JAMA Pediatrics. Arsenic levels were highest in babies who ate rice cereal, often given several times a day to introduce babies to solids.

High levels of arsenic damages the nervous system. It can cause poor concentration and memory, and reduced intelligence. Furthermore, moms who eat a high arsenic diet while pregnant have babies with much higher rates of respiratory complications. (Source).

Your baby can’t even digest grains yet

Amylase is the enzyme that’s necessary to digest starches and grains, like rice baby cereal.  Babies begin to produce salivary amylase as early as 6 months, when rice cereal is typically introduced, however they don’t develop pancreatic amylase, the powerhouse of carbohydrate digestion, until 8 months on average. You can see why giving 4 month old babies rice cereal can be problematic! Pancreatic amylase doesn’t actually reach adult levels until age 10 at the earliest. (Source, SourceSource).

Rice cereal is highly refined

Baby rice cereal isn’t whole rice for obvious reasons, but it’s not even just ground. Rice cereal is usually highly processed until it’s converted into light flakes, which are “instantly” ready for consumption. This is done to make a true convenience food that’s easy to just stir into milk or formula, but it also strips the rice of the little nutrition it does have.

Low in nutrition

Rice baby cereal is naturally devoid of nutrition, so manufacturers add synthetic vitamins back in to fortify it. It’s high in inflammatory and disease causing Omega-6s (source), and even the organic rice cereal can contain soy lecithin. Soy lecithin isn’t as scary as it sounds, however introducing soy to an infant can cause allergies and gut damage later in life (source). As a grain, rice is also high in the anti-nutrient phytic acid.

Full of folic acid

I’ve mentioned that rice baby cereal is high in synthetic vitamins that are hard to digest and not bioavailable, but folic acid can be even more damaging. Folate is a necessary nutrient, while folic acid is it’s synthetic, manufactured replacement. It can cause thyroid damage and health issues for the estimated 50% of the population with MTHFR mutations (Source, Source).

Iron fortification dangers

Rice cereal is fortified with iron, and pediatricians and dietitians argue that a baby’s diet is too low in iron. It’s true that breastmilk is low in iron, but some believe that it’s for a reason. If all babies had delayed cord clamping at birth, they would get an awesome iron stores until they were ready to eat pureed red meats, an excellent source of iron.

In Europe, formula contains half the amount of iron found in US formula (Source). If you indulge in high iron foods, like pastured beef and liver, then this nutrition is then passed through the breastmilk to baby in the right amount. (Source). Iron is a necessary nutrient, high levels of synthetic ferrous sulfate, which is hard to digest, is not. In fact, in one study, babies who were given high doses of iron fortification, the same amount found in US infant formula, scored significantly lower on IQ tests 10 years later.

It’s bland

Another reason why rice baby cereal is recommended, is because it’s a bland, tasteless food. However babies can taste different flavors in breast milk when you vary your diet, so they’re used to some flavor. It’s also helpful to introduce different flavors to your baby so they grow up liking all sorts of healthy foods, not just bland sweet carbs, which can lead to poor diet choices later in life. (Source).

Best first foods for baby

So now that we’ve covered why rice baby cereal isn’t the best first food for baby, what is? Nutrient dense foods– animal foods, in particular– are perfect for your little one. Grains, nuts and seeds shouldn’t be given until after age 1 (even better 2) and only if properly prepared. Here are some foods to start with that will nourish your baby’s brain and development. Be sure to opt for pastured and toxin free animal products (Source).

  • Gently cooked egg yolk (can be a little runny), cooked in butter and served chopped or mixed with other food. Add a little unrefined sea salt for taste and minerals. Don’t do egg white until after 1 year.
  • Organic beef liver grated or pureed
  • Pureed pastured/organic meats
  • Mashed ripe fruit like avocado and banana. Fruits high in pectin like apples, pears, peaches and plums should be cooked, cooled and then fed to baby.

Here’s more info on best choices for baby’s first foods.

Around 9 months, include:

  • Mashed veggies like carrots, peas, winter squash and green beans. Best served with a little organic butter, coconut oil or cream.
  • Some organic whole yogurt can be introduced as well as foods like sweet potatoes served with coconut oil or butter.

What foods did your baby first try, and did it include rice cereal? Let us know in the comments below!

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  1. I am completely wheat and grain free myself. I also don’t eat any refined sugars or processed foods. ( Dr. William Davis, Wheat Belly.) I want my baby to follow this diet as well so I don’t want to do the glucose test while pregnant, which I found is not necessary, that you can do a blood test instead. But that also includes then, no rice cereal or oatmeal. I plan on breastfeeding for about 1 year. When should I start introducing foods and do I have to puree or can I just serve soft foods, and what would some good soft foods be to start with? I saw avocados and banana’s avocados are fine but to many banana’s have to much natural sugars to give all the time as it will result in a spike in blood sugars. Thanks!

    • Check out this post about baby led weaning.

  2. My twin boys will be 4months soon. I was wondering about mixing breast milk with starter foods like Avacado ,banana etc. and just doing this from 4-6 months as a way to test for allergies and being gentle on there stomach until I’m confident there bellys are good with those foods. And then removing breast milk from(still breast feeding ofcourse just no longer mixing it with food after 6 months. What do u think ?

    • Discuss with his pediatrician and get their thoughts. Many physicians are advising that parents wait until six months to start on solids.

  3. My doctor has recommended that I express breast milk and add rice cereal to it to help my daughter with her severe reflux. I had wanted to avoid feeding her rice cereal but will do anything to help her feel better and to be able to keep food down. Have you come across this before and do you have any suggestions?

    • We have a lot of good info here:

  4. Thank you for your article. What about oatmeal?

  5. What is your source for adding salt to baby foods?

  6. Hello,
    Can a seventh month old have oatmeal? If so, how much each day and which one do you recommend? Thanks.

    • A seven-month-olds tummy can’t digest grains just yet. Waiting until at least age one is ideal and starting with a soaked sprouted oat is your best bet nutritionally.

  7. This article talks about rice cereal. What are your thoughts and opinions on oatmeal cereal for infants?

  8. Normally I really appreciate all the advice you give Mama Natural, but I’m really uncomfortable with this article. My mom is German and a nurse who has practiced both in the states and in Germany. Germans have for some time introduced baby rice cereal to their infants as a first food, followed by bananas, squash, yogurt, etc. Meat is not recommended for quite some time after introducing first solids. Most Europeans would be very uncomfortable giving their babies anything other than rice to start out with.

    • Go with what feels best to you. The key is to give babies nutrient-rich foods for their growth and development. My sense is that the rice served in Europe that you are referring to isn’t powdered, instant and enriched.

      • Many in Ireland and UK are choosing not to give their babies baby rice as a result of more information and studies. What we get is instant and enriched; no nutritional value for immature digestive systems.

    • Thank you Genevieve for this article. I love reading them. I live in Canada, I have a 6 m and 1/2 baby. I’m from France and I got two sisters who also have babies. One lives in the U.K., one still lives in France. We were all given different advice regarding feeding our babies. A lot depends on the country, the doctor and if you have a history of allergy in your family. In Canada, I was told to give baby cereals at every meal at 6 months but not my sister in France. I was there when I introduced solids a month and a half ago. France is not big on cereals, but it is on formula! At around 7 months, they recommend 210 ml of milk in the morning, 130 g of vegetable and low carb + 2 teaspoons of meat/fish or 1/4 of hard boiled egg+ 65 g of fruit+ milk for lunch, 65 g of fruit + milk as a snack, and 130 g of vegetable + milk in the evening. Milk is usually formula but a doctor told me that it was fine to feed a baby cows milk cut with water, that they just make women feel guilty to sell formula. I breastfeed her and give her organic cows milk for breakfast. I was also told to give gluten early so she doesn’t become intolerant. I’ve been giving her little pieces of bread that I make with organic flour. I saw my doctor in Canada last week, she is at the 50% percentile and so far so good.

    • Fortunately in Europe they dont allow 90% of the chemicals the farmers in the us use to produce their crops. So for example in the u.s. last year arsenic was at an all time high when it came to rice, they even reported that at those levels could cause cancer. In Europe they are lower than the u.s. has been in 13 years and have been. The soil and crops from Europe are just simply more earthy and healthy then anythimg grown here in the u.s.

  9. Thanks! You confirmed my instincts about rice cereal. Our guy had butternut squash, avocado, bananas, abs yogurt as first foods. I’m a little skeptical about the near recommendation as first food. Totally see the nutritional benefit, especially well sourced liver, but if they don’t have teeth, I can’t imagine their digestive systems are yet developed for dealing with meat…where did this recommendation come from? Thanks again!

  10. I’m not really sure why you are recommending adding salt to a baby’s food. Added salt and sugar should be avoided until at least age 1, or older if possible. Even a small amount of salt can wreck havoc on a baby’s kidney function and blood pressure. Please see this study for reference

  11. Awesome article!! Thank you <3. Both my boys were EBF until they showed an interest in food (7 months for 1, nearly 6 months for the others), and we did nutritious, subtly flavored food very similar to what we had for dinner each night. They never had grains until 11 or 12 months old, and by then they had a few teeth to help chew. We never did purées or standard baby food, just very small, minced finger foods. They ate what they wanted and how much they wanted. They were BF, so any food they ate was a bonus 🙂 I never had to worry about 'finishing' a jar or pouch, and they got to self-regulate and learn what it was like to feel full, then stop when they had enough- it was so easy ;). Thank you so much for writing this article, more people need to know these things!

  12. You may want to reconsider your recommendation for delaying the introduction of certain foods. Substantial research has been conducted on introducing peanuts and other highly allergenic foods and shown reduced risk for food allergy. Delaying introduction of certain foods beyond 1 year can significantly increase a child’s risk for food allergy. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology’s recommendations for introduction of solid foods are a great resource and evidence-based.

  13. Hi, I was wondering, what are your sources for recommending meat products as a first baby food? Most pediatric organizations recommend that meat be given after 7-8 months

    • I agree and would love to know. Meat takes very lo g to digest. I dont think i would introduce this to my child at such an early age.

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