Cereal: When should you begin feeding your baby cereal?

When is the best time to start your baby on cereal?


Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

A baby's best food is mother's milk, or if that is not possible, formula. Newborns really should not be eating cereal or any other baby foods until they are around four to six months old.

For at least the first six months, a baby's nutrient needs are best met by mother's milk or formula. Human milk contains the right balance of nutrients plus antibodies that help protect the newborn's health. Mother's milk changes as her growing baby's nutritional needs change.

Young babies would not benefit from solid foods for many reasons. To start, they are not developmentally ready to deal with swallowing solids. A baby is unable to move solid food from the front to the back of the mouth for swallowing. Instead he tends to gag due to the extrusion reflex with which he is born. Young babies cannot break down the complex molecules in many proteins, fats and carbohydrates, so solid food may pass right through, or worse, cause unnecessary GI distress. Research indicates that children may develop food allergies if solids are introduced too early. Formula and breast milk provide the perfect balance of nutrients that he needs.

Somewhere between four and six months, but probably closer to six months, your baby will be ready for solid foods. By that age, he will be able to move food to the back of his mouth to swallow and his digestive system will be better able to handle solids. You baby will give you signs he is ready for solids. To start, he will be much more aware of his surroundings. He may reach out for your food, put objects in his mouth, watch you closely as you eat and seem hungry after feedings.

The best first food is usually an iron-fortified rice cereal. It will provide the iron that is now necessary in his diet, and is a grain least likely to precipitate an allergic reaction. Initially, starting solids is just for the practice of eating and swallowing. Start with very small amounts. One baby-sized bite of cereal at the first feeding is enough. Gradually increase the cereal to about two tablespoons per feeding.

Soon the cereal will become an important part of his diet. After your baby is well-established on rice cereal (mixed with formula or breast milk) you can begin to offer pureed fruits and vegetables, waiting about a week between each new food to check for problems. Offer new foods at breakfast or lunch. If he has a reaction after a dinner feeding, you could be in for a sleepless night. You should avoid pureed meats until he is at least seven or eight months old, since their protein content may be too high for younger babies. In the early stages of solids, make sure the food is on the runny side. After baby becomes more adept at swallowing you can increase the consistency and texture. 

Watch Video: Organic baby food right for babies?

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