When Should You Introduce Cereal to Your Infant?

It's hard to know when your baby is ready for cereals and other solid foods. We got a doctor to weigh in on exactly when to start solids.
Introducing Cereal to Infants
When would you recommend starting to feed cereal to a newborn?

There are a lot of reasons you might be tempted to start solids early with infants. You may worry that your baby isn't getting enough from breast milk or formula. You may have heard that it helps babies sleep better. 

But it may be better to hold off solids.

Why Wait?

Introducing Cereal to Baby: Bottle Feeding

Although many grandmothers and neighbors may swear that a little cereal in their newborn's bottle helped him sleep better, the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend introducing cereal and other solid foods until four to six months of age. Before that age, young infants need only breast milk or formula.

In the first couple of months of life, a newborn generally feeds every 2 hours. If you're breastfeeding, offer up to 10-15 minutes on each breast; for formula feeding, offer about 2-3 ounces at each feeding.

As your newborn gets older, she'll tend to eat more at each feeding. If your infant produces six wet diapers a day and is gaining weight regularly, that means she's getting enough food calories. Discuss your infant's feeding and growth with her pediatrician at each check-up.

More: From Birth to Four Months: Dietary Milestones

When and How to Start Solids

Once your infant is between four and six months of age, she may start showing signs of readiness for solid foods. Those signs include the ability to support her own head, good tongue thrust (can push food out of her mouth) and showing interest in the foods you're eating.

When you feel your baby is ready and your pediatrician gives the go -head, you can then start feeding her rice cereal by mixing the cereal flakes with her breast milk or formula. The familiar taste will help her accept the new food and rice cereal tends to be less allergy-provoking than some other foods.

Infants are just beginning new tastes and textures, so don't be surprised if she initially rejects your attempts. Try again in a few minutes. Once she gets used to the rice cereal, increase the quantity slowly.

More: Is Your Baby Ready for Solid Foods?

Which Foods to Introduce First

Introducing Cereal to Baby: Eating Solids

After she gets used to rice cereal, you can then introduce oat or barley cereal followed by vegetables, fruit and then finally meat. Introduce new foods one at a time in order. Always wait a few days before introducing another new food. By doing so, you can watch for any diarrhea, bloating, rashes, or other signs of an allergic reaction to a food.

Soon enough you'll be cleaning up pureed peas and carrots from the kitchen floor. In the meantime, enjoy breastfeeding or formula from a bottle until she is ready for solid foods.

Looking for more tips on feeding your growing baby? Check out Tips on Beginning Solid Foods.

Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.

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