Baby Cereal 101: How to Get Started

Posted by Jane Springston on

I will always remember feeding each of my babies their first foods. After months of only breastfeeding and bottles, my husband and I couldn’t wait to introduce the next milestone to each of our babies. But with the first baby at least, there was also apprehension. Our pediatrician had recommended we start with a single-grain baby cereal such as rice cereal, but I didn’t know which one to get and I wanted to make sure I fed my baby the right way!

So to get you started off on the right food with baby feeding 101, I’ve put together this guide to giving your baby cereal for the first time. And it will only get more exciting as you introduce other foods to your little one. 

Choosing a First Baby Cereal

Before you actually feed your baby, you have to choose what you want to give them from the array of cereals and other options available.

Most parents reach for the rice cereal to give their baby as their first food. I know I did as a new mom! It’s an easy choice and one that doctors suggest due to its benefits. It's easy to such as its digest, won’t trigger an allergic reaction and is tolerated well by babies who’ve only been fed breastmilk or formula. It’s also iron-fortified, which babies need as their iron stores start to deplete around 6 months of age. 

Though rice cereal has traditionally been suggested as the best first food for your baby, even many doctors may still give this recommendation, it has gotten a bit of a bad rap in recent years due to the arsenic that’s found in rice - causing parents to look at other options. (This article from Healthy Children explains how you can ensure rice cereal can be used in a healthy diet for your baby.)

If you do choose rice cereal, you’ll want to start introducing other solids to your baby shortly so that’s not all that they are getting, as recommended by the FDA

Other Cereal Options Besides Rice

Fortunately, if you want to skip the rice cereal completely, you can! There is no need to feel like this is the only first food for your baby. Many experts share that any iron-fortified single-grain baby cereal is a great choice, such as baby oatmeal or barley. You can even start with other pureed foods which we discuss later on in this article.

When to Start Feeding Your Baby Cereal

Several years ago the recommendation was that parents could feed their babies at four months if they showed readiness signs. But medical advice evolves and this is a guideline that medical experts have changed to give babies the healthiest start possible. 

It’s now suggested that it’s best to wait til closer to your baby’s ½ birthday to introduce solids, especially if he is breastfed. There’s really no reason to rush it!

But it’s not just age you want to pay attention to as we know that all babies develop at different rates.

Here are signs to look for that will let you know your baby is ready for solid foods:

  • able to sit up supported in a high chair
  • has proper head control
  • no more tongue thrust
  • eager to take a spoon
  • are interested in the food that you are eating

If your baby isn’t yet showing these signs, you’ll want to wait a bit longer before starting baby cereal or other solid foods. No need to worry - all babies are ready in their own time! Your baby will continue to get the nutrition they need from their breastmilk or formula so you don’t need to be concerned that they are missing out on important nutrients. If you do have concerns, it’s always best to talk to your pediatrician.

Can you give your baby cereal in a bottle?

Even though your well-meaning grandma may suggest that you mix cereal into your baby’s bottle to help fill them up so they can sleep better, this practice is actually not safe according to the CDC. In fact, they share that it won’t help your baby sleep better anyway. This practice puts your baby at risk for choking or overfeeding and also may encourage parents to start solid foods long before they are ready. 

Instead, follow the guideline to not feed your baby solid foods until he or she is at least 5-6 months in age and watch for the other readiness signs mentioned above. At this point you can feed your baby with a spoon and introduce finger foods as they are ready. 

RELATED: Starting Solid Foods With Your Baby

How to Introduce Cereal to Your Baby

Breastmilk and formula will continue to be your baby’s primary source of nutrition until the age of one, but cereal is a great way to get them started with supplemental nutrition and transition them to solid foods. So how do you go about it?

Here are the steps to follow to give your baby her first single-grain cereal:

  1. Make sure they meet the recommended readiness signs. This will not only make for a safe feeding experience for your little guy or gal, but it will also be a lot more enjoyable for you.

  2. Plan to feed your little one after they’ve had a full feeding of breastmilk or formula. This way their tummy will mostly be full which means they’ll likely be happy to try a little cereal. (If you try to introduce solids to a hungry baby they will most likely be uncooperative!) Initially you’ll only feed your baby once per day, and it’s up to you when you want that time to be. We recommend choosing a time that your baby is usually in good spirits!

  3. Follow the directions on the label of your chosen baby cereal. You don’t need much to start! 1 tablespoon of cereal mixed with breastmilk or formula until it’s a runny consistency will be plenty for those first couple of feedings. If your baby is used to drinking warm milk or formula, you’ll want to use that same temperature of milk to mix with your baby’s food. (This is why we love the Baby’s Brew portable bottle warmer...you can choose your baby’s milk temperature with the push of a button!)

  4. Be sure your baby is sitting upright. Ideally this would be in a highchair, but they could also be sitting on your lap. You’ll want them to be wearing a bib as a lot your little one’s food won’t make it into their mouth initially.

  5. Use an infant spoon to feed your baby. Do your best to get the spoon into their open mouth, but just know it’s going to be a bit messy at first as they get the hang of what’s going on. It won’t be long before they are opening wide at mealtime!

  6. Watch for cues from your baby that show that they are full (or are just are no longer interested). If your baby turns their head, is fussy or won’t open their mouth to eat, it’s time to be “all done!”

And that’s it! You can do another feeding the next day (or you can just do every other day) with the same type of cereal. Be sure to wait three - five days before introducing another food so you can keep an eye out for any allergic reactions. This is the recommendation given by the CDC

After a couple weeks to a month of successfully feeding your baby once per day you can move to twice per day.

Does cereal have to be your baby’s first food?

Some parents choose to start with a different food or may take baby cereal out of their little one’s diet altogether. Starting with other pureed foods instead is totally fine and may even work better for some babies. WebMD shares that both pureed vegetables or fruits are good starter foods and that there’s no rule saying that baby cereals must be first. 

Some great first foods, if you want to skip the cereal route, include:

  • Avocados 
  • Bananas
  • Blended Red Meat (great source of iron)
  • Squash
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Pears

Just remember that these all need to be pureed and made into a runny consistency that’s easy for your baby to eat. Mixing with your baby’s warmed breastmilk or formula will help to bring this to a consistency that your baby can manage. You’ll also want to avoid giving your baby any of the top allergen foods such as the ones listed here unless you’ve been given different advice from your doctor. These are best introduced when your baby gets a little older. 

Still not sure which food to start with? It can be a bit overwhelming! This is a great conversation to have with your doctor before your baby turns 6 months and they can help guide you on what would be the best option. Whatever you choose, it is sure to be an exciting time for your family as your little guy or gal begins his journey of eating "real" food!

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