Making sure your baby gets everything he needs is important to every parent, especially when it comes to his diet. Introducing solid foods is a big step, but it isn't one you should take too early. Newborns' tummies aren't ready to handle the complexities of solid food. They get everything they need from mommy's breast milk or from formula in the first several months, so don't worry that they're missing out on key nutrients. Several key events will let you know when the time has come to start making that first batch of rice cereal.
Ready for Rice
The general consensus among experts is that babies are ready for an introduction to solid food at about 6 months old, when they're developmentally able to eat it and when they need more iron in their diets, according to Gerber. Rice, in the form of cereal, is usually the first solid food pediatricians recommend for babies because it's gentle on their little digestive systems and because its texture is safe for them to swallow. No two babies are alike, however, so check with your little one's pediatrician before adding rice to his diet.
Other Signs He's Ready
Age isn't the only determining factor in introducing a baby to solid foods. He should have good head control and be able to sit in a high chair or feeding seat without difficulty. He should be about twice his birth weight, which could happen as early as 4 months old for some babies and later than 6 months old for others. He should show an interest in food, enjoy watching you eat and reach for your spoon. Another good test to see if he's ready is to make a little rice cereal and see his reaction when you try to feed him. If he eagerly opens his mouth, he probably is.
Breast (or Bottle) Is Still Best
If you and your pediatrician agree that it's time to introduce rice into your baby's diet, that's great. However, don't forget that this isn't a transition, it's an introduction, meaning it should simply be a supplement for his regular feedings of breast milk or formula. If possible, breastfeeding or bottle feeding should continue to be the primary source of your baby's nutrition for at least the first 12 months of life, according to HealthyChildren.org. Rice cereal does provide healthy iron but isn't a source of complete nutrition.
When you're both ready, begin by making your baby's first batch of rice cereal diluted with formula or breast milk. Even if he's able to eat solid food he might be surprised by the thick texture in his mouth and reject it. You may want to nurse or bottle feed him a little beforehand so he isn't overly hungry and fussy and finish the feeding with nursing or bottle feeding as well. Use a baby-sized, coated spoon to protect his gums and start with feeding him half a spoonful. Let his reaction be your guide. If he rejects the food or cries, don't force it on him. He simply may not be ready. Don't forget babies love to explore; put a little dab of the cereal on his high chair tray so he can squish it with his hands. New foods are a full-body experience for babies!
Don't feed your baby rice cereal from a bottle unless directed to by your baby's doctor. For one thing, he can easily choke and, for another, encouraging him to suck cereal down the same way he would breast milk or formula can result in unhealthy weight gain. When introducing something new to baby's diet, keep an eye out for allergic reactions like rashes, vomiting or diarrhea.