If you spend a few minutes browsing the baby aisle in your local supermarket, you'll see an overwhelming range of products, including rice cereal.
Supermarket shelves are packed with baby food products which claim to be the best, highly nutritious, healthy and so on – because that's what every parent wants for their child. Parents want to hear that what they are buying for their baby is the best, most nutritious and is packed with vitamins and minerals.
Rice cereal is often suggested as a ‘first food' and is labelled as being suitable for babies from four months of age.
You might be tempted to pop some in your shopping trolley, believing you’re making a natural, healthy choice for your baby. Especially if your mother or grandmother is encouraging you to start your baby on the very foods they started their babies with too.
4 Reasons To Skip Baby Rice Cereal
Before you add rice cereal into your trolley, here are four reasons to skip the customary baby rice cereal.
#1: Breastmilk and Formula Are More Iron-Rich
Breastmilk and/or formula will give your baby all the iron he or she needs for the first six months. At around six months, baby will need iron-rich foods, as well as breastmilk or formula.
Accredited Practicing Dietitian and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), Joy Anderson explains:
“Once babies are developmentally ready for solids, there is no need for either bland food, nor purees. Breastmilk, and indeed modern formulas, have all the nutrients a baby needs until about 6 months of age. After then, the main nutrients of concern — and the only ones for a while after 6 months — that need supplementation are iron and zinc, especially iron. These nutrients can be obtained in more absorbable form from meat, so there's no need for artificially-fortified rice cereal.
Gradually, they will need more calories (energy) than breastmilk can provide. After around 9-12 months, they need even more nutrients, that in both cases can be obtained from the five food groups of a normal diet. However, until around 12 months of age, the quantities of solid foods needed are very small. Parents should take care not to give too much — in doing so, they will replace the baby’s milk intake too quickly. Milk (breastmilk or formula) is the main food for a baby until 12 months.”
So, remember that food before one is ‘just for fun', and what you do give should ideally be from a natural source of iron. Iron-fortified rice cereal is a source of iron for babies, but not necessarily the best one.
#2: Fresh Is Always Best
Before refrigeration became affordable and accessible in the mid-20th century, dehydrated and canned foods were very popular. By the 1920s, baby foods – including ready-made baby cereal, fruits and vegetables – were advertised as convenience items.
Young women were experiencing more freedom after the First World War, and saving time in the kitchen was appealing. Marketing also tapped into the growing interest in science by promoting their products as better than home-made options.
Your home probably has a fridge and freezer. Nearby shops and markets offer a variety of fresh, unprocessed foods. Convenience foods are a handy back-up, but they are expensive and not meant for every day.
Processed foods are also usually nutritionally deficient and full of preservatives. Most supermarkets have a shelf life requirement of around 6 weeks for such products, in order to even stock them.
#3: Your Baby Isn’t Actually Ready To Eat Rice Cereal Yet
When babies are given “solids” before they are developmentally ready, you need to modify them.
In the first six months, your baby has a tongue-thrust reflex that protects him from swallowing anything other than liquids.
When you make foods more liquid by pureeing, mashing or adding liquid, you are tricking the body into letting them past.
Your baby will swallow these foods, even if they aren’t ready for them. Rice cereal was invented in a time when babies started solids as early as 6-12 weeks!
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend the introduction of solids at around six months.
Developmentally, a baby can sit up, hold food and bring it to his mouth. He uses his tongue and jaw to move it in his mouth and safely swallow as he eats. You can skip the purees and liquid foods, sharing your family meals instead.
#4: Rice Cereal Is Not A Healthy Choice
If you're planning to feed your child a healthy diet right from the start, then leaving the rice cereal on the shelf will be a big help. There's growing evidence that our diet in infancy and early childhood can influence our health in the future. Our immune system is mostly in our gut, so what we put in it has big repercussions for our health and wellbeing.
Not only that, but more health experts are finally realising the massive impact of sugars and grains in our diet, both of which are a major cause of inflammation and disease.
Endocrinologist and Obesity Australia Chief Professor, John Funder, says:
“Starting a child off on a diet of rice cereal was like giving them “an oral glucose tolerance test”.
The early years are important for helping children develop healthy eating habits for life – both good and bad.
Breastfed babies are exposed to the tastes and flavours of the foods their mothers eat and readily accept a wide range of healthy foods when they move to other foods. There is no need to provide bland, tasteless foods.
Find out more about introducing solids, including best first foods and when to give them.
Recommended Reading: Heinz Being Sued Over ‘Healthy' Toddler Snack Containing Over 60% Sugar.