When it comes to feeding a baby, you’ll find that everyone (from your grandmother to your aunt to the stranger on the street) has opinions on how babies should be fed, when babies should be fed, and what babies should be fed.
Some opinions are based in solid, researched evidence (for example, there’s plenty of evidence to indicate that breastfeeding is a healthier option for babies than formula-feeding.) Other opinions, however, will be based less on facts and more on past experience. You may hear a number of people say, “My mom did this with me!” or “My grandmother had 8 children, and she always did this…”
Putting Cereal In Your Baby’s Bottle
For example, you may have friends or family members suggest that you feed your baby cereal in a bottle. People often suggest this to parents whose babies don’t sleep, or whose babies don’t seem to be gaining much weight.
So, is this a good recommendation? Will putting cereal in your baby’s bottle help her sleep well, or eat more, or gain weight?
Is Putting Cereal In Your Baby’s Bottle A Good Idea?
Probably not. There are many risks associated with feeding your young baby (under 6 months) cereal from a bottle. Some of those risks include…
- Choking. Adding cereal to a bottle thickens the milk. This makes it harder for young babies to swallow, increasing the changes that they’ll “aspirate” (or inhale) the thickened milk and choke on it.
- Increased food allergies. There’s lots of evidence to suggest that introducing solids to a baby before 4 months of age significantly increases the risk that the baby will develop food allergies. This is because a young baby’s digestive system isn’t mature enough to handle solid foods until 4-6 months of age. We discuss food allergies in more detail in this post; check it out for more information.
- Habitual overeating.Babies who take cereal from a bottle tend to drink more than babies who drink straight breastmilk or formula. This is the idea behind putting cereal into the bottle in the first place — that baby will take in more food. The problem is that when a baby routinely and consistently takes in large quantities of thickened milk, it can lead to a habit of overeating. And since childhood obesity rates are already problematic (and are on the rise), we definitely don’t want to teach our little ones to overeat from birth!
- Lower nutrient intake. When parents add cereal to a bottle, they often reduce the amount of breastmilk or formula they put into the bottle (to make room for the added cereal). This is dangerous. For the first 6 months of life, breastmilk and formula provide all the nutrition a baby needs, while cereal provides little nutritional value until after 6 months. So if your baby is taking in less breastmilk and formula, he’s getting less of the vital nutrients he needs.
Will Putting Cereal In Your Baby’s Bottle Help Her Sleep Better?
This is usually the number one reason that parents even consider putting cereal in their baby’s bottle — friends and family members assure them that a little cereal in the bottle will help baby sleep longer and better. And for exhausted, sleep-deprived parents, even a little extra sleep sounds too tempting to pass up!
However, before you go racing to fill your infant’s bottle with rice cereal, you should know something — there’s no evidence that feeding your baby solids (whether by spoon or by bottle) will help her sleep better. That’s because when babies wake at night, they’re not just waking from hunger — they’re waking for a variety of other reasons (like sleep associations.) So adding cereal to your baby’s bottle likely won’t make a difference in her sleep, but it will put her at risk for a variety of complications.
Will Putting Cereal In Your Baby’s Bottle Help With His Reflux?
If your baby struggles with reflux, you may have heard friends and family members suggest adding cereal to his bottle as a way to thicken the milk and help it say down. Is this a good idea? Does it work?
The reviews on this are mixed. Some pediatricians actually recommend this to parents, and many parents claim that mixing cereal into their babies’ bottles reduces spitting up. However, other pediatricians caution that while adding cereal might reduce episodes of spitting up, it doesn’t actually cure the reflux. Others advocate for using a special reflux formula.
The bottom line: if your baby suffers from reflux, check with your pediatrician before making any changes to his diet.
Here’s our advice, for all parents: don’t add cereal to your baby’s bottle unless your doctor has advised you to. There are far too many risks associated with feeding your baby cereal from a bottle, and there are no actual benefits. Instead, stick with feeding your infant breastmilk and/or formula, and hold off on offering solids until close to 6 months of age.
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