Any time your baby reaches a new milestone it is very exciting. As a parent, you want to be sure that they are getting everything they need, and come on, the stories from well-meaning relatives about your baby sleeping better with cereal sounds like a dream come true!
Once your baby approaches their 4-month checkup, your family’s pediatrician may suggest starting them on rice cereal. Before you start waving an airplane spoon with mushy, milky rice in front of your angel’s mouth, let’s pause for a moment and think about this. This outdated advice may not be the best thing for the long-term health of your child. There are much better alternatives to processed rice cereal, and starting solids at four months old may not be the best time.
I do not believe there is a “magic number” but I do believe the longer you wait, the better it is for your baby’s immune system since it gives them more time to mature. Older relatives and even your peers may talk about how they started their children on cereal in a bottle as young as 6 weeks. You need to realize that the information and research regarding food allergies and immunity available to us now was not available back then. Unfortunately not everyone is aware of it. It takes time to figure out what works and what doesn’t. This subject has been widely researched. Now, since the rise in food allergies the World Health Organization, as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend introducing solids to your baby at 6 months of age. I do believe every baby is an individual and you should look for your child’s cues and interest regarding food. I started putting my son in a high chair around 5 1/4 months at meal times. As he got closer to 6 months he was grabbing for our plates and showing extreme interest in our food!
Why You Should Consider Skipping Rice Cereal:
- Rice cereal is NOT the perfect first food for babies. It is high in double sugar molecules which is tough for their immature immune systems to absorb.
- Babies do not make enough of the enzyme amylase, which is crucial for breaking down carbohydrates.
- By adding indigestible grains to your baby’s diet you are taking up space in their diet where more nutrient-dense food/milk should be.
- Starting with a processed white food can cause your baby to crave only white/processed/high carb foods later on!
- Rice cereal is a poor choice for your baby’s immune system. Healthy immunity starts in the gut and giving babies a food they have trouble digesting can set them up for a weak immune system long-term.
- Breast milk is primarily fat (rice cereal is primarily high-carbohydrate) so baby’s first foods should have a nutritional composition similar to breast milk as they transition to solids, meaning baby needs fat!
What about iron and other vitamins? My pediatrician told me breast milk does not contain enough iron?
I am so glad you asked this question! Let’s talk about nature’s most perfect food for human babies, shall we?
Human breast milk is made up of 48% saturated fat, 33% monounsaturated fat and 16% polyunsaturated fat. It contains 43 grams of cholesterol per cup and there is 8-9 grams of protein per liter. Mother’s milk contains fat soluble Vitamins A, D, E & K but the amount can depend on the mother’s diet. Many people are deficient in Vitamin D which is why it is important for momma to get lots of sunlight and eat plenty of Vitamin D rich foods (Vitamin D drops for baby on your nipple or in bottle work too). Human breast milk contains many antimicrobial and anti-viral properties, every teaspoon contains 3,000,000 germ killing cells in it! The minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, and iron are present at lower levels than you would find in commercial formula and fortified cereals. However, the minerals in breast milk are forms that have high bio-availability. Up to 75% of the iron in breast milk is absorbed by the baby. When your little one is getting the synthetic form of iron, as little as 4% is absorbed into the baby’s bloodstream. To make up for this, manufacturers raise those concentrations which then upsets the ecology of their little guts. What it does is it forces their body to get rid of these excess synthetic minerals which inhibits growth of healthy bacteria, allowing harmful bacteria to flourish.
Want to know another interesting fact about why mama’s milk is low in iron?
You see, Mother Nature is smart. Our bodies are designed a certain way for a reason. Breast milk, and the milk of all mammals lacks iron. These lower levels are to protect newborns from iron-loving microbes such as e-coli. This is why breast milk is iron-poor by design, and what iron it does contain is easily absorbed by your baby.
What should a baby eat when starting solids?
As we mentioned above….FAT!
Both of my babies started on avocado as their first food. Avocado is perfect because it is soft and contains plenty of healthy fat. A few spoonfuls dominate a bowl of rice cereal nutrient-wise!
With my daughter I made purees (I spoon fed avocado that I blended in my food processor) and with my son I took and am taking, a loose baby-led weaning approach (BLW). I gave him chunks of avocado he could gum and feed himself.
Baby-led weaning vs Homemade purees:
This is a topic for another blog post but with my first child chunks of food made me very nervous, so I felt more comfortable with making purees those first few months of solids. However, I love the concept of baby- led weaning so I decided to try it with my son. I do not agree with all of the nutritional advice, but I believe the approach in general is great for exposing a baby to different tastes and textures early on. You are not just feeding them mush. You have to do what you feel comfortable with as a parent!
List of perfect first foods for babies around 6 months of age:
- Avocado: as mentioned above loaded with healthy fat, vitamins, and soft enough to gum.
- Egg yolk: Weston A. Price actually recommends pastured (soy-free) soft boiled egg yolk as first food (with grated liver). I agree! I introduced these as second foods to my son. When you choose eggs from pastured hens who live outdoors and are fed their natural diet (not soy and wheat), they contain a boatload of omega-3 fatty acids and good cholesterol for brain development. Some choose to skip the egg whites before one year since it contains difficult to digest proteins and can be allergenic in sensitive individuals. (Side note: I introduced egg whites in things like baked muffins around 8 months, then later in whole scrambled eggs with no issue).
- Bone broth! Homemade bone broth is an amazing first food for babies. Not only does it contain tons of vitamins and minerals, they are easily absorbed by an immature digestive system and helps to seal the leaky gut babies are born with. I know you would have to spoon feed this, that is why I consider my approach to feeding “loosely” based on BLW.
- Ripe bananas: Ripe bananas are a good carbohydrate to give as one of baby’s first foods because it contains amylase, meaning it already contains the enzymes they need to digest it!
- Winter squash such as roasted or steamed butternut squash loaded with coconut oil or ghee. I always add lots of fats to my baby’s veggies to enhance nutrient absorption of fat soluble vitamins. I did begin my children on sweet potatoes before 7 months, but loaded the potatoes with coconut oil (some sources suggest waiting until after 7 months for potatoes since they can be tough on digestion).
It is recommended to introduce one food at a time and wait 4 days in between to be sure there are no food allergies or sensitivities. Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride recommends doing a skin test where you place a drop of the food in question the way you would serve it (so cooked or raw – however it will be consumed; if solid mash with water) on the inside of your baby’s wrist at bedtime. If there is a red itchy rash in the morning, avoid that food for a few weeks and try again. If there is no reaction, introduce the food starting in gradual amounts.
I recently began adding pastured meats blended with homemade broth, and my son has gone crazy for them! His favorite is this chicken soup recipe which defrosted very soft and smooth so I didn’t even have to blend the meat after warming. The meat was warmed from sitting in my freezer!
A few tips to remember:
- Food before 1 is just for fun! Your baby will explore taste, spit out and throw the majority of the food on the floor. Try not to fret. 95% of their nutrition is still coming from breast milk or formula.
- Observe your baby’s signs and readiness for solid food. As I mentioned above, I began including my son at the table during mealtimes. He started to show strong signs that he was ready to eat close to 6 months (leaning towards food, grabbing for it, opening his mouth, grunting).
- Honor their cues. Part of why I love BLW so much is you are allowing your baby to control what they eat. Rice cereal can cause poor eating habits later. You could be “tricking” your child into eating more or making a game of getting them to open their mouths while you shovel food in. This could cause overeating behavior.
- Egg yolk is VERY rich. Egg yolk and bone broth were the two items I “helped” my son with, but he still tried to control the spoon and how much he got. When starting on egg yolk a spoonful or two is enough. You can gradually go up from there. By 7 months my son was eating about 3/4 of the yolk on his own.
- Around 6 months begin giving food once a day. Preferably in the morning an hour after nursing/bottle so you have all day to see if there are any reactions.
- Remember, babies are individuals just like adults. They will prefer different tastes and textures. It is important to offer a variety of foods after the initial introduction phase. If your baby seems to not like a food, wait a few weeks and try again. Do not assume they hate it and never offer it, labeling their preferences. Taste buds change so continue to try things periodically that didn’t work before after some time has passed, as they get older it may just be the way it was prepared.
- Don’t be afraid to add spices! Cinnamon on butternut squash or sweet potato with coconut oil; cumin and ghee on parsnips; steamed broccoli help introduce a variety of tastes is excellent for expanding your little one’s palate and preventing pickiness later on!
- Choose organic! Your baby’s immune system and body are still maturing. Many fruits and vegetables are heavily sprayed with pesticides that can cause an array of health problems. When choosing animal products, always choose pasture raised from a farm you trust. They are worth it and all the money you are saving on expensive jarred and pouch baby food!
- Baby eats what you eat! Eating is also a time to teach social behavior. I share food with my son and he giggles the whole time as we watch each other enjoy our squash or eggs!
- Avoid all grains for the first year. After the first year you can introduce soaked and sprouted grains such as buckwheat, oatmeal and quinoa (a seed that acts as a grain). Our family does not eat many grains. We stick with high fat, but if you prepare them properly they can be a healthy part of your baby’s diet.
- Probiotics are an excellent way to support your child’s immune system. It is never too late to start making your own bone broth to use in soups, stews, or roasting meats and vegetables!
As a parent we do the best we can with the information that is available to us. Unfortunately, many pediatricians are giving poor advice when it comes to nutrition for babies. Luckily, my son’s doctor was very supportive of my choices and even encouraged them!
If you have children and used rice cereal as a first food, do not look at this post as discouraging. Keep following along and do your own research to learn how to incorporate the most nutrient-dense foods in the best forms to support your growing child.
- Gut & Psychology Syndrome, Campbell-Mcbride MD
- Nourishing Traditions book of Baby & Childcare, Sally Fallon
- Nourished Baby, Heather Dessinger