White rice cereal is often a first solid food for babies because it's unlikely to trigger allergies, and its bland taste is easily tolerated by tiny palates that are used to formula or breast milk. Although rice cereal is ideal for some babies, many pediatricians don't recommend a one-size-fits-all approach to starting solids. Introducing rice cereal too early or to babies who don't require it to balance their diets may be unhealthy, or even harmful.
Experts debate whether introducing white rice cereal as an infant's first food makes him more prone to obesity throughout his life, and Dr. Alan Greene, a pediatrician at Stanford University, actually equates feeding white rice cereal with feeding a baby sugar or soda, according to ABC News. Dr. Joseph Mercola, a natural health expert, agrees that giving babies white rice cereal could lead to diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, due to an increased risk of obesity when infants taste starch as a first food and therefore grow up craving foods made from white flour, such as breads and cakes. Other experts disagree with this theory, however. Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News' chief medical editor, argues that bad parenting habits, such as feeding a baby for comfort rather than hunger, are more likely to create bad feeding habits than offering white rice cereal.
Commercial rice cereal products are usually fortified with iron, but some experts argue that infants may not need the extra iron if they are otherwise well nourished, and too much iron may cause constipation. According to KellyMom.com, babies who are breastfed for the first six months of life per the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines may not need additional iron, unless the child's pediatrician determines that breast milk alone isn't providing adequate iron. Also, formula-fed babies often consume formula that's already fortified with iron. Feeding your baby iron-fortified rice cereal without first having his iron levels checked to see whether his existing diet is sufficient could make it difficult for stool to pass. If your pediatrician does not recommend iron-fortified rice cereal for your baby, or if you notice straining and hard stool after introducing rice cereal, Dr. William Sears recommends starting with barley cereal or high-fiber fruit purees instead.
During previous generations it was common for parents to put rice cereal into bottles of breast milk or formula, even when the child was as young as 1 month old. Many pediatricians recommended this practice to supplement iron, and many parents felt the early introduction of solid food helped infants stay full longer between feedings, and therefore sleep better. Some well-meaning individuals who raised children during these generations may still suggest the very early introduction of rice cereal to modern parents. Current guidelines state that no solid food, including rice cereal, should be given prior to 4 months of age, unless a parent is directed to do so by the child's pediatrician, according to the Mayo Clinic. Prior to 4 months, infants may not have the oral motor skills required for swallowing non-liquid textures, and they may breathe food into the lungs. Even at 4 months or older, infants should not start solid foods until they show signs of readiness, such as holding their heads steady and upright, and sitting with support.
Lack of Nutrients
White rice cereal is filling for babies, but it doesn't offer a great deal of beneficial nutrients for the amount of calories it provides. Your physician may still recommend rice cereal, especially if your baby is deficient in iron, of which it is a rich source. According to Dr. Greene, however, many babies are better served with brown rice cereal, since it is also rich in protein, essential fats and minerals. Oatmeal cereal may be a better first solid food than rice cereal, according to KellyMom.com, because it's higher in protein and other nutrients. If given the okay by your child's pediatrician, KellyMom suggests breastfed babies may be able to skip cereals all together, since breast milk is already high in carbohydrates, and fruit purees may be a more natural transition to solids because the sweet taste is similar to that of breast milk.