Changes in sleep patterns area common phenomenon in infancy. But, sometimes, these changes can be too troublesome for the baby and the parents. Parents may receive friends and family recommendations to add rice cereal in the milk bottle during such times.
It is believed that rice cereal thickens formula and keeps babies’ tummy full for longer, making them sleep soundly. However, there are no studies to back this belief. Besides, several short and long-term safety concerns surround the feeding practice.
Read on to know more about the safety of adding rice cereal to the baby’s bottle, health issues associated with the feeding practice, and alternatives to try.
Is It Safe To Add Rice Cereal In Baby’s Bottle?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) discourages adding rice cereal in the bottle unless directed by a pediatrician (1). Experts believe that rice cereal in the bottle is a potential choking hazard, especially for young infants whose oral motor skills are underdeveloped. Besides, their digestive system isn’t capable of digesting solids, and exposing babies to solids early could raise the risk of food allergies. The World Health Organization also recommends cup feeding as opposed to bottle feeding, in an attempt to cub diarrheal diseases that may be caused by germs that habor on feeding bottles.
It may lead to excessive weight gain due to overfeeding and could bring changes in stool frequency and consistency (2). Additionally, using rice cereal as a thickening agent may make it difficult for the baby to learn to eat from a spoon later. Some babies may even develop a preference for sweet foods due to rice cereal’s sweet taste (3).
Does Adding Rice Cereal In The Bottle Help Sleep And Reflux?
Effect on sleep
Adding rice cereal in the bottle does not make the baby sleep for longer (4). Experts advise following good sleep hygiene and maintaining a healthy sleep-wake schedule to help babies sleep soundly. You can begin sleep training your baby between four and six months of age (5). In case the baby is still struggling to sleep or waking up at night, consult a pediatrician to determine the cause.
Effect on reflux
If a bottle-fed baby spits up often, a pediatrician may recommend adding a small amount of baby cereal to thicken the formula. Research shows that adding thickening agents might reduce reflux, but could increase the risk of excess weight gain and malabsorption of nutrients (6). Therefore, consult a pediatrician before adding rice cereal and stick to the recommended quantity.
Besides these concerns, feeding rice cereal may increase arsenic intake in the long term (7). Thus, AAP recommends safer alternatives, such as oatmeal. Some experts may also advise using a pre-mixed, anti-reflux formula to manage reflux in infants (8). Some of these formulas contain rice, corn or potato starch, guar gum, or locust bean gum as thickeners (9).
When To Introduce Rice Cereal To Babies?
- Control their head
- Sit with little or no support
- Move food from the front of the mouth to the back
- Show interest in eating solid foods
Feeding solids sooner can affect the baby’s health adversely. So, wait to feed your baby until they are physically ready for it.
How To Introduce Rice Cereal To Babies?
There is no fixed order to introduce solids to babies. Some parents may introduce pureed vegetables or fruits, while others may serves single-grain cereals, such as rice cereal, first. If you wish to begin with cereal, mix it with formula, breast milk, or water.
If the baby gags or dribbles the food out while feeding, they are likely not yet ready for solids. However, if they can swallow food comfortably, feed a teaspoon or two initially and gradually increase the quantity to a tablespoon or two, start with a thin mixture and increase the consistency as they grow. Stay alert to the signs of intolerance, sensitivity, and allergy. If you are unsure about weaning your baby, consult a pediatrician or a dietitian.
Tips To Help Babies Help Sleep Longer
- Give a warm-water bath to the baby before bedtime. It could calm the baby and make them feel relaxed before bedtime. You can make bathing a part of a nighttime routine with other activities, such as brushing teeth and reading bedtime stories.
- Dress them suitably to prevent overheating and ensure the baby’s basic needs, such as diaper change and feeding, are met before bedtime. You may feed the baby before bedtime, but make sure the baby is awake to prevent them from becoming habituated to nursing to sleep.
- Adhere to a bedtime routine to help the baby develop a sleep-wake cycle. Try putting your baby to bed at the same place and same time every day. Always place your baby on their back for sleep, including during naptimes, until they are a year old (12).
- Maintain safe sleep protocols for undisturbed sleep. Ensure there are no stuffed toys, fluffy blankets, pillows, and comforters around the baby. These items could disturb the baby’s sleep and also increase the risk of accidental suffocation.
- Keep the baby’s room dimly lit. It could help the baby self-soothe back to sleep if they wake up in the middle of the night. Some babies may find light disturbing, and you may keep the room dark in such cases.
- Avoid disturbance and distractions around the baby’s sleeping area. Ensure the baby’s room is noise-free and away from a place with constant movement. If required, use white noise machines to cancel out ambient sounds and help your baby sleep.
- If you are breastfeeding, breastfeed on demand.
Severe sleep changes or frequent waking up at night could be due to sleep regression. Nevertheless, consult a pediatrician if your baby is struggling to sleep soundly.
A baby’s sleep-wake patterns oscillate at times, and it becomes manageable as the baby grows older. Avoid feeding rice cereal in a bottle since it does not guarantee sound sleep. On the contrary, it raises several short and long-term health concerns. Adequate sleep hygiene and a definite sleep-wake schedule could be better choices to help your baby sleep better.
2. Prevalence and Parental Perceived Efficacy of Rice Cereal in Bottles Used as a Natural Sleep Aid for Infants Aged 0-11 Months; AAP
3. Thinking About Introducing Solid Foods?; AAP
4. Feeding From a Bottle; CDC
5. Sleep Training; SleepFoundation
6. T’ng Chang Kwok et al.; Feed thickener for infants up to six months of age with gastro‐oesophageal reflux; NCBI
7. Oatmeal: The Safer Alternative for Infants & Children Who Need Thicker Food; Healthy Children; AAP
8. Infant Formula; American Family Physician
9. Rachel Rosen et al.; PediatricGastroesophageal Reflux Clinical Practice Guidelines: Joint Recommendations of the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition and the European Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition; NCBI
10. American Academy of Pediatrics Recommendations for Complementary Feeding; AAP
11. Starting Solid Foods; Healthy Children; AAP
12. Healthy Sleep Habits for Infants and Toddlers; Nationwide Children’s