Are infant cereals really the best first food for babies? Are infant cereals really the best first food for babies?
Rice cereal with a bit of breast milk, infant formula or water has been the first food many parents feed their babies. It’s cheap,... Are infant cereals really the best first food for babies?

Rice cereal with a bit of breast milk, infant formula or water has been the first food many parents feed their babies. It’s cheap, easy to mix with other foods and portable. It’s also easy for babies to digest and unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. “Babies have been eating grains for decades and they are well tolerated, which is one of the reasons why they are a good first food,” said Karen Ansel, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Syosset, New York, and co-author of “The Baby and Toddler Cookbook: Fresh, Homemade Foods for a Healthy Start.”

Rice cereal has also been touted as a healthy first food because it gives babies the nutrients they need, particularly iron and zinc. At around 6 months of age, breast milk iron stores naturally decrease. Plus, when both breastfed and formula-fed infants start solids, they get less of these nutrients and need to replace them with solids, which support their rapid growth, said Sara Peternell, a master nutrition therapist in Denver, Colorado and co-author of “Little Foodie: Baby Food Recipes for Babies and Toddlers with Taste.”

In recent years however, rice cereal has become less popular.

“What we’re realizing is that grains really don’t need to be a first choice,” said Dr. Anthony F. Porto, a board-certified pediatric gastroenterologist and assistant professor of pediatrics and associate clinical chief at Yale University.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that there’s no medical evidence that starting solids in any particular order has any advantages.

“This idea of giving them ‘smooshy,’ bland, wallpaper-tasting rice cereal because we believe it’s either easier on their taste buds or easier on their digestive system is becoming a very outdated first-foods-for-babies recommendation,” Peternell said.

In fact, studies show babies’ food preferences actually start in utero. Babies whose mothers drank carrot juice during pregnancy and while breastfeeding had fewer negative expressions when they started to eat carrots than infants who had not been exposed to the flavor, a study in the journal Pediatrics found.

Amylase, Arsenic and Allergies
“We’re learning that grains may have somewhat of a detrimental effect,” Peternell said, adding that amalyse, the enzyme which allows babies to digest and break down complex grains isn’t present in their salivary glands until their molars come in.

“Babies have very immature digestive systems, so to speak, so when we introduce something that’s more of a refined grain, that takes a lot more energy from the digestive system to try to break it down and also to extract the nutrients,” she said.

Often times when babies start both gluten and non-gluten varieties of grains, they can experience stomach pain, become constipated and have changes in their stool patterns.

“They may even potentially develop some food intolerances because their gut is just not prepared yet for some of the protein components in that particular food,” she said.

Another concern about feeding babies rice in particular is the high levels of arsenic that it contains. In April, the FDA proposed a limit of 100 parts per billion (ppb) for inorganic arsenic infant rice cereal.

Although wheat shouldn’t be offered as a first food, it shouldn’t be avoided either and offered only after your baby can tolerate other foods.

“What we’re finding actually is that if you are strictly avoiding those foods, you may actually be encouraging your child to develop allergies because their bodies are not coming in contact with these allergens and when they finally do, they really don’t know how to handle them,” Ansel said.

Variety is the spice of life
Although babies do not need grains, they do need to eat complex carbohydrates, Peternell said, adding that butternut squash, zucchini and sweet potatoes are all excellent choices.

If you’re concerned about arsenic in rice, you don’t need to avoid rice altogether.

“What you wouldn’t want to do is rice cereal three times a day, every day,” Ansel said.

If you choose to feed your baby grains, choose a variety such as oats, multigrain cereal, barley, quinoa and millet.

Traditionally, first foods around the world have been meat, which have the same level of fortification of iron and zinc as fortified cereals, Porto, who is also the author of “The Pediatrician’s Guide to Feeding Babies and Toddlers,” said.

In fact, breastfed infants who were fed pureed meat had higher levels of iron and zinc than those who were fed an iron-fortified infant cereal, according to a study in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition.

If you’re raising your baby as a vegetarian, egg yolks are also a good option. Although legumes are iron-rich, they’re not a complete protein unless they’re combined with grains and they should be offered occasionally and when your baby is older, Peternell said.

If you decide to offer grains and you find it makes your baby constipated, foods such as prunes, plums, pears, peaches and apricots can help combat it.

Also, keep in mind that no matter what types of foods you introduce, you should start to offer a new first food every three to five days.

“The most important thing is you want to give your baby a wide variety of solids,” Ansel said.

Julie Revelant is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the healthcare industry. She’s also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at


Obinna Onyia

  • Achante Swanepoel

    2016-09-20 #1 Author

    It also helps their gentle tummies , n keeps them full .


    • Zariana

      2016-09-28 #2 Author

      I agree. I once read a article saying how rice cereal has arsnic in it & it showed the top brands. Gerber wasn’t one of them so I continued to give my baby cereal.


  • Adrian Lewis

    2016-09-20 #3 Author



  • lafabian brownlee

    2016-09-20 #4 Author

    yes it would be


  • Shalonda

    2016-09-20 #5 Author

    It worked for my daughter


  • Kelvin Obasohan

    2016-09-20 #6 Author

    My baby loves cereal. Good info guys! Well done.


  • Tieharr Flood

    2016-09-20 #7 Author

    Breastfeeding For Me Was A Great Choice


  • Tavesha

    2016-09-20 #8 Author

    Yes. It keeps them full


  • Juliet

    2016-09-20 #10 Author

    Yes , cereal keeps their tummy full


  • Keeric Johnson

    2016-09-20 #11 Author

    I always loved giving my children rice cereal kept them well and full


  • Destiny

    2016-09-20 #12 Author

    Yes cause it will make your baby full


  • Yarkenvia Lykes

    2016-09-21 #13 Author

    I say yes , I had to start giving my baby cereal at two months because she didn’t get full


  • Ashley

    2016-09-21 #14 Author

    Cereals help your baby get full off something else that’s good for them besides milk.. Cereal is good for your baby also..


  • Jamin

    2016-09-21 #15 Author

    It works for my boy perfectly.


  • Ocho Joyce

    2016-09-21 #16 Author

    Breastfeeding is very good, according to my big sister, it help build kids brain. After the first 6months cereal can be included as , but it’s better to start up with breast milk.


  • Kerri k

    2016-09-21 #17 Author

    I gave my babies cereal to Keep them full a little longer


  • ogechukwu onuoha

    2016-09-21 #18 Author

    Absolutely,keeps them full for long


  • Sandra Tete

    2016-09-21 #19 Author

    My niece is being fed on mashed sweet potatoes, egg yolk,avocado n milk combined together . These are usually blended together and they have done wonders.
    But this article has helped me and now I know what to give my 4month old daughter once she starts eating


  • Sandra Tete

    2016-09-21 #20 Author

    All I knew was sweet potatoes, avocado, boiled egg yolk, and milk mashed together,making a thick porridge like mixture.verry good for babies
    But now this is going to help me know what to do once my baby starts feeding
    Thank you for the article


  • Aminah

    2016-09-21 #21 Author

    Yes it will keep their bellies full for long .


  • Jeremie

    2016-09-21 #22 Author

    Yess My Child Loves Cereal It Keeps Her Tummy Full❤️


  • michelle

    2016-09-22 #23 Author

    Yes true


    • Liz Sanchez

      2016-09-22 #24 Author

      Yes rice cereao was a big help to feed my daughter.


  • Liz Sanchez

    2016-09-22 #25 Author

    Rice cereal is the best my daughter was on it.


  • Qywuannia

    2016-09-23 #26 Author

    Yes it’s the best first way to feed your baby my baby loves it and gets upset when it’s nomore left


  • Shikila Calder

    2016-09-23 #27 Author

    Its not filling enough…


  • Joselyn

    2016-09-23 #28 Author

    From my experience with my 3 children yes cereal is a great 1st food. Especially oatmeal or rice cereal. I make a bottle add the cereal inside and feed them before bed and they sleep right through the night


  • Erin Woods

    2016-09-29 #29 Author

    My son loves baby cereal and he is only 3months and healthy as ever


  • Toryianna

    2016-09-29 #30 Author

    It definitely keep them full and fat and healthy


  • Nadine

    2016-10-01 #31 Author

    I give my daughter cereal and it keeps her full apose to her wanted to eat more and more so she can last the every 2 hours full


  • Courtney

    2016-10-14 #32 Author

    Yes i agrees


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