When is it safe to feed baby rice cereal?

Wow, this is a challenging question to get a definitive answer on. You will find multiple thoughts, opinions, and perspectives on this question. Further, you’ll see that most of these thoughts, opinions, and perspectives….ALL DIFFER!

4 months? 3 months? 6 months? 7 months?

Seriously? What is a first time parent supposed to do?

I can only speak from my experience as a parent of three children, who were all very different.

child putting small piece of food in baby's mouth in the kitchen

Safety=Readiness

One of the first potential issues with feeding a child solid food like rice cereal is making sure your child can safely consume it. There isn’t one specific age where all children are ready to consume food. This is a developmental thing. The child must be able to use his/her tongue to move the food to the back of the throat and then swallow it.

Your child isn’t born with this ability. A child who cannot get the food down the right tube can chock, or even breath the food (aspiration). This is one of the reasons why you don’t feed small children foods they aren’t ready for.

So how do you know if your baby can swallow rice cereal?

The development of the muscles is important. If your child can hold his head up on his own, can sit up on his own, can turn his head to look around, and doesn’t need to be in a chair to avoid falling over, it is more likely that he’ll be able to swallow food.

Interest is also a factor

Starting a child on rice cereal is also about him being interested in eating it. There’s no point in trying to feed a child rice cereal (or any other food) if he doesn’t have any interest at all in eating it. The interest will develop over time, and that interest is a good sign that he is physically ready and safe to have food in his mouth, move it to the back, and swallow it.

picture of a green pea pod with green peas inside it

Why rice cereal?

I’m guessing if you are thinking about rice cereal readiness, you are thinking about baby’s first food.

One thing I would implore you to do as a new parent is to consider starting with someone else as the “first” food. One thing new parents don’t realize is that babies have an immature elimination system (pooping). When you start introducing food at an early age, while their system is immature, you can actually cause them to become very constipated. This can be a very painful and traumatic experience for you and the baby, and could even require a doctor’s intervention.

Think about it…rice (like toast and bananas and applesauce) is a food that we might give to someone who has diarrhea or who has loose stools. This helps plug them up.

Plugging up an infant is NOT what we want to do.

After my first baby’s painful constipation experience, I started my next children with foods that began with the letter P, such as prunes, peas, peaches, and pears. I stayed away from rice cereal, applesauce, and bananas.

I also mixed prunes into other foods that might be constipating, such as rice cereal when we got there.

This ensured that the poop came out regularly, without a painful, hard poop.

I actually met a set of parents not long ago, who said to me, “It’s too bad that pooping is so painful for babies.”

I was shocked, and floored! Pooping should not be painful for babies, toddlers, or anyone! That’s a major sign that a child isn’t getting the right foods for their developing system!

Now I can’t be too harsh on these poop parents, because you don’t know what you don’t know. There’s no book on this, and doctor’s don’t always even tell you the risks or problems of feeding your children constipating food.

These are things we learn as we have kids.

mother and baby at the beach, baby waving at the camera

Rice cereal can be constipating

This is why I recommend that you wait to start rice cereal until the child is easily consuming (and pooping out) other foods, such as blended fruits and vegetables.

Certainly, it is safe to feed your child rice cereal when they are developmentally ready for it (and other fruits/veg), but I don’t recommend it as a first food, or even one of the very first foods.

Other foods you could try

In addition to the foods that start with P, I think these are some other really viable options as first foods (blended really well and liquidy of course, with breast milk or formula) to make the mixture thin, smooth and easy to consume, as well as taste familiar:

  • Avocado
  • greens
  • beans
  • squash

Nothing wrong with waiting to start solid foods

With the first child, if you are now like I was, you are excited to start solid foods. I was so excited (and my son was showing signs of readiness) that I started him when he was about four months old.

Aside from constipation, I wish I had known that:

  • Starting early would impact the amount of breast milk I would produce, and would hasten the end of nursing.
  • His diapers would start to smell terrible and disgusting, especially as compared with the breast milk poop diapers, especially after dairy/dairy products come into play.
  • Diaper rash would now become a real thing, as sometimes the food he ate wouldn’t break down all that much, and the poop sitting on his skin in his diaper if I didn’t catch the poop right away would burn his bottom or even blister it (like when he ate oranges, pineapples, tomatoes, anything acidic).

baby sitting in white bathtub, with water melons around the tub
  • The poops got bigger too….infants use most of breast milk, so their poops tend to be lighter, smaller, and easy to clean up-not so with food poops.
  • Adding food wasn’t something you could just stop…and food had to go into the planning daily, while breast milk was just something I already had on me everywhere I went, and I didn’t have to deal with putting it in the diaper bag, the car, or clean up after it.

Are you getting ready to start your baby on solid foods? Tell me about him/her in the comments! I’d love to know more about your family.

Cheers everyone!

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