Rice cereal with a bit of breast milk, infant formula or water has been the first food many parents feed their babies. Its cheap, easy to mix with other foods and portable. Its also easy for babies to digest and unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. Babies have been eating grains for decades and they are well tolerated, which is one of the reasons why they are a good first food, said Karen Ansel, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Syosset, New York, and co-author of The Baby and Toddler Cookbook: Fresh, Homemade Foods for a Healthy Start.
Rice cereal has also been touted as a healthy first food because it gives babies the nutrients they need, particularly iron and zinc. At around 6 months of age, breast milk iron stores naturally decrease. Plus, when both breastfed and formula-fed infants start solids, they get less of these nutrients and need to replace them with solids, which support their rapid growth, said Sara Peternell, a master nutrition therapist in Denver, Colorado and co-author of Little Foodie: Baby Food Recipes for Babies and Toddlers with Taste.
In recent years however, rice cereal has become less popular.
What were realizing is that grains really dont need to be a first choice, said Dr. Anthony F. Porto, a board-certified pediatric gastroenterologist and assistant professor of pediatrics and associate clinical chief at Yale University.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that theres no medical evidence that starting solids in any particular order has any advantages.
This idea of giving them smooshy, bland, wallpaper-tasting rice cereal because we believe its either easier on their taste buds or easier on their digestive system is becoming a very outdated first-foods-for-babies recommendation, Peternell said.
In fact, studies show babies food preferences actually start in utero. Babies whose mothers drank carrot juice during pregnancy and while breastfeeding had fewer negative expressions when they started to eat carrots than infants who had not been exposed to the flavor, a study in the journal Pediatrics found.
Amylase, Arsenic and Allergies
Were learning that grains may have somewhat of a detrimental effect, Peternell said, adding that amalyse, the enzyme which allows babies to digest and break down complex grains isnt present in their salivary glands until their molars come in.
Babies have very immature digestive systems, so to speak, so when we introduce something thats more of a refined grain, that takes a lot more energy from the digestive system to try to break it down and also to extract the nutrients, she said.
Often times when babies start both gluten and non-gluten varieties of grains, they can experience stomach pain, become constipated and have changes in their stool patterns.
They may even potentially develop some food intolerances because their gut is just not prepared yet for some of the protein components in that particular food, she said.