The Best First Food for Baby
Does it HAVE to be baby rice?
Is infant cereal (also known as baby rice) the best first food for baby? Are there alternatives to baby rice that may be a better option?
This page looks at the pros and cons of introducing infant cereal to baby as a first food, reveals some helpful
information from other parents… and suggests some alternative foods that may be ideal for leading your baby into
the world of solids!
Why is baby rice so commonly introduced as baby’s first food?
Well, there are several reasons – the main one being that it is the first food most frequently recommended to parents
by pediatricians and medical professionals.
There is also an element of tradition – after all, it was the first food
that many of US received as babies and offering baby rice has become established and widely accepted as the ‘norm’
when transitioning infants to solids.
So WHY has infant rice cereal always been considered the best first food for baby?
- It is relatively bland in taste – some experts say that this makes it more acceptable to babies because – when mixed with breast milk or formula – it tastes familiar to them.
- You can mix it to a fairly thin texture, which is believed to be ideal for babies making the transition from an all-liquid diet to a more solid one.
- It provides necessary iron – most baby rice is iron-fortified to boost babies’ levels of this essential dietary element at a time when they become depleted (around 6 months of age).
- It is believed to be relatively non-allergenic, making it a safer option as a first food.
- It is said to be very easily digested.
- It is believed – by some – to help babies sleep through the night by keeping their tummies full for longer.
- It is gluten free, meaning that it can be given to babies under 6 months of age (please see this page for more information about gluten).
For quite some time, these reasons for introducing baby rice before other foods have not been greatly challenged –
indeed, infant cereal is still one of the most popular weaning foods in the developed world.
More recently, however, parents are ‘reading up’ on infant nutrition and questioning commonly held beliefs
regarding feeding practices. With more information available – and parents being able to ‘compare notes’ via the
internet – they are more likely to challenge pediatric advice regarding solid feeding issues than ever before.
Furthermore, the previously held notion that anything in a packet marketed for babies is automatically a healthy
choice is beginning to fade away… and many parents have doubts over the necessity of those little
packs of commercially prepared baby rice.
So let’s take another look at why baby rice is considered the best first
food for baby – and what other parents have discovered after introducing infant rice cereal to THEIR little ones…
Baby rice has a bland taste and can be mixed to a thin texture…
When we were small, our parents were often encouraged to begin feeding us solid foods from as early as 6
weeks of age. Even now, some pediatricians and health professionals are still advocating the introduction of
solids from 3-4 months of age, despite the fact that various organizations – including the World Health Organization and
UNICEF – recommend that babies receive nothing but formula or breast milk for the first 6 months of life.
If you are introducing solids at 4 to 6 months, then the ‘blandness’ of baby rice –
combined with the fact that it can be mixed to a very thin texture – may make it a suitable choice as a first food.
After all, some babies under 6 months of age may not be developmentally ready to deal with much in the way of texture (see
Ready for Solids?
for more information) – therefore, a particularly runny blend of milk and cereal would be more manageable.
Dad Richie Escovedo found that the ability to adjust the texture of baby rice worked very well for his little
one and told us…
| With our first child (now 4) we introduced rice cereal as a first food upon the recommendation of our|
pediatrician. Being new parents, it didn’t really occur to us which food(s) to start with and we
were glad to receive guidance. With our second child (7 months) we followed the same pattern and had no problems.
We found that changing the consistency with varying amounts of water changed up the
Mum Joanna Ruscella from Orlando, Florida, agrees, saying…
| I loved the baby rice cereal – my children would eat it up and I found that it was a great way to|
thicken foods and give them a little extra nutrition at the same time. We incorporated it into many of
our meals. Instead of eating simply carrots, or meat, etc. I would mix in a little of the cereal with it.
As a matter of fact, it has become a kind of a comfort food for my children. They are now 7 and 5 and
However, if you choose to follow recent guidelines to delay the
introduction of solids
until at least 6 months of age, then baby rice may NOT necessarily be the ideal choice as a first food.
In our experience, by 6 months of age babies are ready to experience some real flavour – blandness is certainly NOT
a requirement at this point.
In fact, as we discuss on our page ‘Can My Baby Eat Spicy Food?’ –
many babies experience herbs, spices and garlic from a very early age and absolutely adore these stronger flavours!
And, of course, texture should be less of an issue by 6 months of age.
Many babies have lost their gag reflex by now and are capable of managing basic purees at the very least!
Those parents who follow the principles of Baby Led Weaning and allow babies to feed themseleves – rather than
feeding them from a spoon – may even find their little ones coping wonderfully with actual ‘pieces’ of food.
Infant cereal is iron fortified…
Full term babies are usually born with adequate stores of iron. However, these deplete during the first 6 months
of life and medical professionals usually recommend introducing iron-fortified cereal as a way of boosting
(External link for more information: Diagnosis and Prevention of Iron Deficiency and Iron-Deficiency Anemia in Infants and Young Children)
However, there is some controversy over this advice with regard to breastfed babies, because the iron in breast milk
is extremely well absorbed. Some experts say that the iron stores of a breast fed baby are NOT necessarily deficient
by 6 months of age and that the introduction of iron fortified cereal can lead to baby absorbing LESS iron from
Neither may iron-fortified cereal be essential for formula-fed babies.
New research has discovered that the addition of very finely ground meat to a baby’s diet is extremely effective
in boosting iron levels and may even be better than cereal
(please read How to Introduce Meat to Baby for more information).
Indeed, the government website Healthy Canadians now recommends meat as one of the best first foods for baby, as – for some
time – has the breastfeeding advocacy group La Leche League.
Baby rice is non-allergenic…?
Or is it?
Whilst any food has the capacity to trigger an
allergic reaction in
a sensitive individual, baby rice has long been considered one of the foods least likely to do so. This makes it a
popular choice for babies younger than 6 months of age, for whom the risk of an allergic reaction to foods is
However, startling new research published in the online edition of Archives of Disease in Childhood has called
this claim into question.
A review of 31 infant allergy cases at Sydney’s The Children’s Hospital in Westmead, Australia – which took place
over 16 years – found that baby rice triggered a reaction called food protein induced enterocolitis syndrome
(FPIES). In fact, rice seemed to cause this disorder in more babies than either soy or cow’s milk, which were
previously considered to be the most common causes.
Whilst no changes have been made to recommendations for the introduction of infant rice cereal as a first food, it
is certainly worth noting that baby rice may not be as ‘low risk’ in terms of allergenic potential as previously
Baby rice is easy to digest…?
Many babies are introduced to rice cereal with no resulting digestive issues whatsoever.
But this isn’t always the case and some parents do find that baby rice leads to
constipation and other discomforts.
Mum Megan King from Pennsylvania was one such parent and told us…
| I chose infant rice cereal as the first food for my now 9 month-old daughter.|
I chose this as the first food on the advice of my pediatrician. I would not do this again.
My daughter was constipated for 5 days and it was not until I switched her to oatmeal infant
cereal that the constipation was relieved. I actually had to mix a little prune juice in with
the oatmeal to relieve the constipation. I have tried to reintroduce rice cereal again in the
last few weeks and my daughter still does not tolerate it well. It is more sticky than the oatmeal
cereal and tends to make her gag.
With my next child, I will use oatmeal and barley cereal and skip the rice cereal all together.
Kate Burch from Oklahoma had a similar experience…
| I introduced rice cereal to my first daughter at my pediatrician’s urging when she was 4 months old.|
She had terrible constipation and crying bouts with her tummy making awful noises so we stopped that
and tried it again at 7 months to the same reaction. Switched
at that point to oatmeal cereal and she was fine. I never let rice cereal touch my second daughter’s lips!
Of course, digestive problems caused by the introduction of rice cereal may be caused by introducing solid foods
before 6 months of age, when baby’s digestive system is still a little immature.
Yet, as Mum Nancy O’Neill points out in her summary of her experience with infant cereal, rice is known for its
| I chose not to start out with any store-bought baby food at all, especially rice cereals.|
Our son was born in Nov. 1995 and already, it was well-known that rice was a binding agent.
For years, nutritionists and doctors advised people of all ages that if they had diarrhea or similar
problems to use the BRAT diet which consisted of Bananas, Rice, Apples, and Toast.
So to feed infants rice as their first solid food didn’t make any sense at all. It’s purely
Instead, I went with vegetables and fruits which I cooked and pureed myself in an ordinary blender.
Any time you get processed foods, it’s hard to avoid the extra sugars, salts, and chemicals they need
Two of our children suffered constipation issues after consuming baby rice and we receive countless e-mails from
parents who’ve discovered the same thing.
If your little one is prone to constipation then one of the alternatives to baby rice listed at the
end of this article may make a far more appropriate first food!
Infant rice cereal helps babies sleep longer…?
This advice is often passed on to parents who are frequently woken at night by a crying baby. But
is it really true?
Unfortunately, there is no clear answer to this question and we’ve heard mixed reports from parents.
We certainly wouldn’t recommend adding cereal to baby’s bottle, which is often the advice given to sleep deprived
parents by well meaning friends and family. This presents a choking hazard – it can cause baby to consume more calories than he needs – and it can lead
to digestive discomfort, as Mum Nikki Maxwell from California discovered…
| I gave rice cereal in my eldest daughter’s bottle to her (with extra liquid) because people told me|
she would sleep better. It gave her gas and made her belly hurt. It was a bad idea and I did not do
that one with my two other children. After my experience, I decided to read more and talk to my doctor
more about when to introduce what kinds of foods. My feeling is that waiting as long as we can to give
“food” to babies is a better bet for their digestive tracts.
Neither would we recommend introducing baby rice via the spoon to a baby under 6 months of age, purely on the basis
that he is waking at night… it is more likely that he will suffer digestive discomfort as a result and that
means even MORE sleepless nights for you both.
However, from 6 months of age the introduction of baby rice may have a positive effect on your baby’s sleeping pattern, although it’s
worth noting that many babies naturally begin sleeping for longer periods during the night at this stage.
Mum Sharon Golubchik from Teaneck, New Jersey, certainly felt that rice influenced her son’s sleep…
| The first solid that I gave my son was rice cereal, at 6 months old. Eventually I moved him|
onto other foods as well, but I always made sure to give him rice cereal at dinner time because I
once heard that it will help him sleep better through the night.
And from my experience, I saw firsthand
He is 11 months old now, and while he eats noodles and bananas and yogurt and lots of
Is rice the best first food for baby? Other parents opinions…
From Paul Hambrick…
We have not used rice cereal with our children because we keep our children on a schedule, we breast feed and
By keeping them on a rather strict schedule (as strict as you can be with an infant, I mean come on,
My wife has always had a very good milk supply. We believe that God created babies, and their mother has the
Rice cereal is not healthy for babies, it’s convenient. It keeps the baby “satisfied” longer
Of course, not every baby will react this way, but why take the chance? We don’t want to take the chance,
We actually skip any type of cereal all together as part of the stage of introducing solid foods.
From Sara Sprague…
I’m one of the parents that opted not to introduce rice cereal as a food for my child.
My son did start getting grains later on. At about one year old I would make rice cereal out of
From Michele Samuels, California…
I chose to avoid cereals altogether until my baby had a range of vegetables in his diet.
I did this according to a list of first foods I received from a homeopathic pediatric office.
Granted the first food I gave my son was yams, which are sweet and do have some starch,
After a few months of just veggies, I also introduced organic baby cereals. As far as the cereals went,
It’s not scientific data, but I can tell you that my son eats just about everything now — from meat, poultry,
From Brynn Steimle, M.S….
I have an 8 month old baby, and when we introduced her to solids when she was 6 months old, rice cereal
And yes, I would use it as a first food again next
Best first food for baby – alternatives to baby rice
There are a range of other foods that may make a good alternative to baby rice as a first food. Remember, though,
that not all foods are suitable for all babies and you should check with your doctor first, as he is familiar with
your baby’s family history.
- Homemade rice cereal
using brown rice
is more nutritious than most commercial cereals, which are usually made with white rice.
- Oatmeal (porridge) or barley cereal (these may contain traces of gluten and may not be suitable
for babies under 6 months of age). You can see our baby oatmeal recipes here or our barley baby food recipes here.
- As discussed earlier in this article, meat is now considered by many to be an appropriate choice for
baby’s first food. See How to Introduce Meat to Baby for more information.
- Bananas – creamy, sweet and nutritious, they make a superb first food. Read our Banana Baby Food
information and recipes here.
- Avocado – we call it ‘nature’s perfect baby food’. Find out why!
- Apples or pears – nutritious fruits that are gentle on the tummy, apples and pears are popular first
choices for baby.
- Sweet potato – one of the healthiest foods on the planet, sweet potato is steadily growing in popularity
as a nutritious first food. Read out sweet potato baby good guidelines and recipes here
- Butternut squash – packed with nutrients, butternut squash cooks to a wonderful
texture for baby food. Read our butternut squash information and cooking tips here
- Carrots – a popular first food, carrots are high in beta-carotene and easy to digest.
See our homemade carrot baby food recipes here
- You may be thinking about skipping pureed foods altogether and letting your baby feed himself from the very beginning.
Find out more about baby led weaning
Ultimately, the choice of the best first food for YOUR baby is yours to make, under the guidance of your pediatrician.
Whilst this article does not provide all of the answers, we hope that it has given you some useful information to
help you make the best choice for your child… and to realize that baby rice cereal is not the ONLY first
food available to your little one, but is merely one of a range of alternatives.
What Do You Think is the Best First Food For Baby?
Do you have any opinions or experiences about baby rice that you’d like to share? Did you introduce a fruit, veggie or meat to your baby before anything else? Please tell us about it!
What Other Visitors Have Said
Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page…
I had five children all of whom are grown. I breast fed all of them back when few women did. I gave them rice cereal at 6 weeks and they slept through …
I have used baby rice as the first food for all of our little ones (my 5, plus I am caring for my 13th foster), but will definitely rethink the trend next …
We decided to use Thanksgiving to start our 4 1/2 month old on cereal.. She loved it (or the game of it) and then became fussy (nap time), so I took her …
I have followed the most common advice and given my first rice cereal. My second it caused constipation so I used oatmeal, and used oatmeal for my third. …
My daughter’s pediatrician recommended solids, after he rolled her on to her tummy and she held her head up, she was four months old. We wanted to wait …
Rice is the staple diet in the south of China. So naturally, we feed our babies with rice porridge (or congee). Put some rice and water in the rice …
I have personally been in childcare of some kind for over 20 years. I have dealt with birth to Kindergarten many times over and have mostly cared for infants. …
I wanted to wait as long as possible before starting my daughter on any solids whatsoever, including rice cereal. I am entirely gluten free, and also do …
I have a 6 months baby. I gave cereal to him because it’s easy to digest and didn’t stick to his throat. And I don’t have to worry because it’s soft and …
Well, being an American in China with a small baby can be hard enough but add in the Chinese in-laws and you’ve got war!That’s pretty much how the …