Philosophies for starting your baby’s first food can really vary. When it comes to baby cereal and whether it’s the ideal first food of choice, opinions are as diverse as the brands of baby food. In general, it can be confusing to know when, where and how to start solids. However, starting solid foods isn’t difficult. Whether you start with cereal or another food, there are plenty of resources to help you simplify the most basic foods and ensure safety, and your baby will soon be exploring the world of solids.
Baby cereal is traditionally the food of choice
Baby cereal has been the traditional first choice food, but only in the United States and only for two generations. However, the American Association of Pediatric Societies acknowledges that for generally healthy infants, there is no evidence that starting with infant cereal is more beneficial than starting with other common first foods
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants begin eating solid foods at six months of age, although the primary source of nutrition at this age should still be breast milk or infant formula.
Support starting with single grains
Why are infant cereals so popular? Those who advocate starting with infant cereal do so because:
Taste: Infant cereal is bland and tasteless, and it will absorb the taste of formula or breast milk. Therefore, some people find it more appealing to infants.
Iron needs: At about six months of age, infants usually deplete all their iron reserves and need iron in their diet. Since most cereals are iron-fortified, this is one way to address nutritional needs.
Allergies: It is believed that single grains, especially rice grains, are at lower risk for allergies than other solid foods and mixed grains.
However, infants may ingest arsenic if they eat too much rice cereal, so parents should allow infants to eat a variety of rice cereal categories to reduce the chance of arsenic ingestion (e.g., oatmeal, barley flakes, etc.).2
Never put cereal in a bottle
You may have heard the advice to feed your baby a mixture of a bottle of formula or breast milk and baby cereal. For healthy babies, this is an unwise and unsafe choice. For infants without health problems, the risks far outweigh any potential benefits. It is best if your baby starts eating solid foods with a spoon rather than drinking from a bottle.
Support starting with other foods
There are several reasons why you may decide to start your baby on foods other than baby cereal, including:3
Taste variety: Babies are already exposed to many tastes in the womb and through breast milk, so they don’t have to be limited to lighter foods like baby cereal.
Iron needs: Red meat, liver, lentils, and legumes all provide iron and other nutrients. For example, red meat provides zinc and iron. Lentils provide fiber and iron. Babies can eat these foods, as long as they are prepared in a developmentally appropriate manner.
Family Packages: Whether you are using baby-led weaning or baby food purees, choosing a variety of foods, rather than grains, can allow your baby to experience a similar taste to the rest of the family. For example, while the caregiver eats carrots, lamb and potatoes, the infant may eat the sauce with these foods. Baby-led feeding means that there is no need to prepare separate meals and little need to buy special baby food.