Baby Bottles and Cereal

I have heard different reviews about putting cereal in the bottle of an infant. Is it safe?

Baby with a bottle. Baby Bottles and Cereal

Dr. Greene’s Answer:

You’ve heard about it from friends, parents, and in-laws. You’ve seen it in Internet chat rooms and discussion boards:

“You’re so tired! You should put some cereal in your daughter’s bottle – then she’ll sleep through the night.”

“He’ll nap better.”

“Your son looks too skinny. You’re not feeding him enough. Add some cereal to the bottle – that’ll do the trick.”

“He still acts hungry? Try putting some cereal in the bottle. He’ll be much less fussy.”

“Spoon feeding is a hassle. Put it off as long as you can. Cereal in the bottle is quick, convenient, makes them sleep longer and cry less – what more could you want?”

Pediatricians Don’t Recommend Baby Bottles and Cereal

Your pediatrician says this is not wise (except as a treatment for reflux). Dietitians and nutritionists concur. Introducing solids before 4 months might cause food allergies. Your well-wishers discount these recommendations because cereal in the bottle worked wonders for their children!

Throughout most of human history children were exclusively breast fed for the early months. During the previous generation or two, when bottle-feeding became very popular, rice cereal was often put into the bottle at a very early age. What were the results?

Most children seemed to thrive. A small number of children, though, did not tolerate the addition, because their sucking and swallowing actions were not yet fully coordinated. They inhaled small amounts of the rice cereal into their lungs, which led to pulmonary problems.

Why Not?

I’m much more concerned about a subtler issue. Babies are born with a wonderful mechanism for knowing how much food they need. During the early months, they take their cues from the volume of what they drink. Adding cereal derails this mechanism. It forces them to take in deceptively large amounts of calories. It teaches them to overeat.

By starting with a spoon, resting between bites, and stopping when your child lets you know he’s full, you will be laying an excellent foundation for good eating habits throughout his life.

A major study looking for the causes of obesity found that short-circuiting young children’s self-regulation of how much they eat is a major cause of later obesity.1 Cereal in the bottle does just that.

Babies that are fed this way may appear to be unaffected – but those few weeks of added convenience may result in a lifetime of struggles with weight. This common practice may have contributed to our being the most obese generation in history.

Does it Work?

And here’s the biggest reason of all — it doesn’t even work. Scientists at the Cleveland Clinic studied the effect of cereal on sleep and found that adding the cereal did nothing at all to speed up the age of sleeping through the night. That first uninterrupted 6-hour stretch of sleep came no earlier in those who took cereal early.2

People swear otherwise. I suspect the reason is that kids do fall asleep a bit more quickly, and some babies may even go a bit longer between feedings. There is no scientific evidence, though, to support the claim that cereal in the bottle will help an infant increase total sleep or decrease crying.3

Drawing on the wisdom of experience and the latest scientific knowledge, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against adding cereal to the bottle. It may be tempting after your 16th straight sleep-deprived night to cut a bigger hole in the feeding nipple to add rice cereal. But it won’t offer lasting help, and it may be giving your baby a lasting gift that both of you will regret.

References:
1 Birch LL, Fisher JO, The causes and health consequences of obesity in children and adolescents: development of eating behaviors among children and adolescents. Pediatrics 1998 Mar; 101(3)
2 Macknin ML, Medendorp SV, Maier MC, Infant sleep and bedtime cereal. Am J Dis Child 1989 Sep; 143(9):1066-8
3 Hall RT, Infant feeding. Pediatr Rev – 2000 Jun; 21(6): 191-9.

 

Dr. Alan Greene

Dr. Greene is the founder of DrGreene.com (cited by the AMA as “the pioneer physician Web site”), a practicing pediatrician, father of four, & author of Raising Baby Green & Feeding Baby Green. He appears frequently in the media including such venues as the The New York Times, the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, & the Dr. Oz Show.

  1. PFil

    Ok so my son is almost 5 months and has no problem spoon feeding (well as long as it’s a vegetable). He’s not a fan of cereal or fruit so I have put small amounts in his bottle. If that makes me a bad mom, so be it. I spoon feed him the things he will open his mouth for and bottle feed what he hates. I never put a lot and make sure it comes out of the nipple easily before I give it to him.

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    • PFil,

      How wonderful for you that your baby love vegetables! At this age he doesn’t need cereal or fruit, so you can relax.

      Best,
      @MsGreene

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  2. Kellys mom

    So then what do you do for a six week old who is always hungry and never seems satisfied?

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    • Lacy

      Is your child gaining weight? If so then I wouldn’t worry about them not thriving. Sometimes babies just need a different approach. IF you haven’t tried a pacifier, I would try that. It might seem silly, or they might at first gag, but try holding it in their mouth or a few different types until you find one that they like. Swaddling while doing this (even if they fight it at first) could help tremendously. If your child is losing weight, his/her pediatrician might make recommendations for you as to supplementing, but if he simply just “seems” dissatisfied, it might be more of a comfort thing while feeding than anything else. Try rocking, or bouncing a bit, having him or her sleep on your chest with heavy pats to their back. All these things may calm him/her. Just keep going mom!—If at his doctors appointment he is not thriving, the doctor will know what to do. :-)

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    • Sharon

      Six weeks is a likely age for a growth spurt during which time baby will seem insatiable. As a breast feeding mom I cannot comment on the amount of formula to give if that is how you feed your baby, but I can tell you if you are breastfeeding you should not need to supplement. During growth spurts babies are extra fussy as they may experience growth pain during this time. All you have to do is be patient with baby and yourself, put baby to the breast whenever baby seems hungry even if you have nothing left, this will queue your body to produce more milk. And don’t worry about keeping baby awake during the day for a sleep schedule during this time. During a growth spurt let baby sleep when they are tired. They will return to their normal feeding and sleeping after about a week of rapid growth.

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  3. lindsay

    My ten week old is refusing to take a bottle of breast milk while I am at work for the sitter. She just screams and won’t suck. She chews and licks the nipple or just gets mad. I have to work. We’ve tried different nipples, warming the nipple, and different warm temperatures. She doesn’t want it. She takes the breast just fine.

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    • Lacy

      Some children (a few of my Nieces included) refused anything but nipple. :-( I am sorry this is your case, I wish there was an answer i could give you that worked for my sister but she just had to get to her baby, or make arrangements for her baby to come to her if she had to be away from her (she wasn’t working so it was easier) I have heard of this in other cases where the mother did work, she had her husband, or if a family member was caring for the child bring her to her work. Its an inconvenience for sure but the feedings do get more spread out in later months when they are eating whole foods and you can always start adding a sippy cup as early as the time you add whole foods as well, just to stave off the nursing cravings a little longer. The other thing you could try, is to pump early in the morning. generally speaking, with clean bottles Breast milk lasts about 4-6 hours at room temp. The taste of breast milk does change when refrigerated or frozen. I am not sure if you have already attempted this, but it might be worth a shot. The other thing you could try, to get her to eventually drink from a bottle is used freshly expressed or at least not refrigerated milk and dip a pacifier in it and get her to suck on the pacifier. The taste and comfort of a pacifier (if she will take one) may make her approach the bottle better. Other than that, I am sorry. For picky babies, sometimes there is no other options they just want mom. Good Luck. (Source: Breastfeeding mother of 2 for total of almost 4 years, and Peer Breastfeeding Helper)

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  4. Kendra

    My daughters pediatrician recommended that I give my 2 month old cereal in her bottle due to her spitting up so much.i only give it to her at night and morning. She seems to be taking it well. She doesn’t over eat, once she shows down on eating..I simply burp her. Your Baby will let you know when he/she is full.

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  5. Dawn

    Thank you! I nursed all of my children, never using bottles. Now, I have the joy of taking care of orphans in Honduras, blessed with a newborn orphan. I was looking for sound advise for bottle feeding. The cereal in the bottle didn’t make sense seeing as none of my 11children needed it and they learned to sleep all night, but I’m new at this bottle stuff and so many have advise…. Thank you. I’ll be back to your website.

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    • Dawn,

      What a wonderful time in life for you and the children you’re caring for. Keep up the good work.

      @MsGreene

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    • Devinae

      Just wanted you to know you’re awesome for what you’re doing.

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  6. Mel

    Dr Greene, thank you for the article and listing your sources. Reading the coments and listening to the old wives tales from family and friends remindes me how sudo-science rules the mind of many.

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  7. Kristina

    I have two children. One was fed cereal in a bottle amd one was not. My son who was fed cereal in a bottle has no food allergies and is perfect height and weight at 6 years old. My daughter who was not fed cereal in a bottle has ridiculous food allergies and is obese. She is four years old and outweighs my 6 year old by 10 pounds. She didn’t have cereal until about 9 months old because it took her that long to be able to take up to 6 ounces of formula at a time. She was very easy to satisfy when it came to feeding. My son on the other hand was always hungry which is why he was given the cereal in his bottle.

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    • Catlropp

      My sons dr told us nothing but formula or breast milk until they are 4-6 months old. I’ve also read that putting cereal in an infants bottle can cause death. Do to the fact that they aren’t able to handle cereal at such an early age and they can chick on the cereal because of the way they suck the milk out of the bottle or while breast feeding.

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  8. Goddess

    I fed my son this when he was two months old…. He is now four, isn’t at all overweight, quite a skinny build lol and he isn’t allergic to anything and is healthy…. Sorry but everyone has their own opinion and as long as you’re not strictly feeding them cereal it is okay. I always put a tiny amount in bottles to tied him over and it did wonders.

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  9. maria kashif

    How do i give cerelac to my 3months old child thru spoon and how much i should give it to

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    • I believe your asking about spoon feeding cereal to your three month old baby. This is not recommended. Babies are not able to take a spoon at three months. Some are able to by four months, but many pediatricians recommend waiting until six months old.

      Dr. Greene doesn’t recommend feeding babies white rice cereal at any age either by spoon or in a bottle. So unless your doctor has specifically recommended that you feed your baby cereal, stick to breastmilk or formula a little longer.

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  10. jennifer

    Rice cereal has been around for years, and I don’t particularly belive in using it too often but on occasion I’m sure there’s no problem. It amuses me how people are quit to judge a simple product that’s been given to children for centuries, But then turn around and reward their child with a McDonald’s happy meal…come on people! Look at the real reason the kids in this generation are Fat! Belive me it’s not from rice cereal lol!

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    • Mercy

      Agree, well said!!!

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  11. Trisha

    My son is 7 weeks old, 13 lbs, and out growing his 3 month clothes. He is muscular with very little fat any where on his body. His father and I are above average height, with wide frames. My son is growing so rapidly so fast, he rolled over for the first time alone at 6 weeks, can hold his head up solidly, grabs objects in front of him, and is now learning how to sit up. I am hard pressed to keep him fed. He eats 7 ounces (4 oz breast milk 3 ounces) formula every couple hours. Now that doesn’t seem to be holding him over.

    So if his body is growing and developing so quickly, is his digestive track also changing as rapidly? Would it hurt him to supplement a couple bottles a day with cereal to assist him with his rapid growth?

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  12. tori

    Today is the first day to put cereal in my babys bottle. I read how it makes them sleep longer. I hope so cause me and my fiancé don’t get much sleep our baby is 2 months and 10 days.

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    • kathy

      Babies are not meant to sleep through the night. They wake because they need to be fed (Need nutrients) Rice cereal has no nutrients and you will be depriving him of the nutrition he needs. 2 Monthe is way to early. Every parent deals with lack of sleep, just deal with it, for the health and well being of your child. speak to your pediatrician. They will say the same.

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      • Mercy

        Technically, they say after 6-8 weeks baby wake up for other reasons… Once they reach a certain weight their biological need to feed is not why they wake up.

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  13. Victoria

    I fed both my girls cereal in their milk not to thick and to where it is blended well thinned out. Of course waited till they were of age to eat cereal. They only were served it during growth spurts in between bottle feeding and spoon feeding ages. This way they were not hungry 24/7 and got filled a bit better. They are actually small for their age so nope not obese here. Everyone has their own opinions on it my opinion…
    It does work for temporary reasons not permanent so only on occasions. Do not become Dependant on this method, otherwise can mess with the eating habit you’re wanting them to go towards.
    (my opinion, not a doctor)
    Definitely keep up with monthly doctor appts.
    Know CPR ahead of time
    Consult your doctor of age and ect when using cereal always.

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    • Jodi

      The article says may result in lifetimes struggles with weight. I don’t agree with you. I NEVER put cereal in my daughter’s bottle once, and she did just fine! It’s not something they have to have.

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  14. Jessica Wren

    Each child is different and has his/her own dietary needs. There are no “definite” ages or deadlines.My daughter’s pediatrician approved for her to have one teaspoon of rice cereal in each bottle because she was fussy, lethargic, and irritable as well as spitting up constantly. I have noticed an improvement. I think the formula alone was not enough anymore and she was constantly hungry. Giving her more formula was just causing her to become bloated and overly full (like when you drink too much water), resulting in spit-up. My opinion is: you should never do anything based solely on YOUR convenience (giving a child rice to get him to sleep through the night). And while I agree that you should not teach your child to overeat, making them miserable with hunger is not healthy either. In fact, when you don’t have enough calories for your body’s needs (and babies do need the calories to grow and thrive), then your metabolism slows down and will put all energy into surviving. Like my daughter proves, a hungry baby is a lethargic, irritable baby who is not doing her job of exploring and playing that are so important for her brain development. The way to keep a child from overeating is to keep food that you don’t approve of out of the house, Give them small, healthy snacks throughout the day so they never get overly hungry and pig out at mealtimes. Also, rice is one of the few foods that almost never causes allergies. Always discuss any changes in your child’s diet with your pediatrician, and always do what you know in your heart is best for your child.

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    • Marcie Hernandez

      Hi Jessica , my niece has a 2month old baby with the same exact problem. I had her read your comment and it helped . Thank You.
      Marcie Hernandez

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  15. Rachel

    My Boyfriend is actually leaving me because I wont let him put cereal in my 6month olds bottle. Just isn’t necessary.

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    • Gail

      I’m sorry Rachel, if your boyfriend is leaving you because of not putting cereal in a bottle, trust me, it isn’t the cereal in the bottle. Help him pack his bags if he can’t cope.

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      • Jason

        If the boyfriend is also the other parent and you aren’t including him in making parental decisions, then good for him for leaving you. It wasn’t because “you wouldn’t give the baby cereal”, it’s because you are too controlling. At six months, it’s the consensus of nearly the entire scientific and medical community that is OK to introduce solid foods to infants. Because it isn’t necessary??? Neither is feeding babies carrots, or peas, or apple sauce or ANY particular food. To ” not let” him feed any particular food meant for infants, especially if he’s the father, on the sole basis that it isnt necessary is YOUR failure as a co-parent/partner, and over-simplifying the issue and trying to make him look bad by saying he’s leaving because of cereal in a bottle demonstrates that you don’t take responsibility and just shift the blame because YOU aren’t capable of compromising. He left because of the way you act, not because of cereal.

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        • Jegordo

          I’m a mother of 3, and i give my 10 1/2 week old ,1/2 teaspoon in 4oz(well mixed) and use a medium flow nipple, i gave my first two the same but i may have gave more and they drank more at a feeding then my LO does now and all my baby’s have done wonders my now 4 and 6 year old have no allergies and are averagely healthy. i believe solids to be introduced by 4 months not 6 months but my babies have proved me to believe this.

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        • Olivia

          Well someone’s Ina bad mood ^

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    • rob

      Wow is all that comes to mind on that. If he is leaving you over something like that, than consider yourself lucky that he is leaving now.. I’m a male, but still believe in the phrase mother knows best what is right for their child. Best of luck to you

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      • Olivia

        Exactly^ that’s just sad

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  16. Michelle

    Everyone has their own opinions…my brothers and I were fed cereal in our bottles before starting solid food and none of us are overweight. I also fed all three of my children cereal in their bottles and they arent overweight either. Not sure who these so called studies were done on but I can tell ya it definately wasnt on anyone in my family.

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    • Jason

      I was the same way. I don’t think their studies were done properly. So many parents wouldn’t swear by it if there weren’t any truth to it. My mom put a tiny bit of cereal in my bottle at 2 weeks old because I was always hungry, and I scared her because she woke up in the morning and realized I never woke her up through the night, and she found me sleeping peacefully. I was skinny all my life and was 111lbs and 5’9″ as a freshman in highschool. You don’t get much skinnier than that.

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      • Olivia

        At 2 weeks! There is a reason newborns have to eat every 3 hours it’s their glucose and sugar levels that’s actually dangerous no wonder ur small

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  17. I am so glad to see this post up somewhere. I have been argued with on countless conversations that my daughters pediatrician says its is completley okay, while my home nurse warns against it. maybe if the pediatrician is saying this I need to find a new one.

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    • Lea Brown

      Totally agree! I was just mentioning on FB that my 9 month old seems to be going through a growth spurt because he just went through 2 helpings of baby food and still drank an 8 oz bottle of milk afterwords even though he normally would not have had another bottle for at least an hour after the solids, and a well meaning friend told me to put rice cereal in the bottle. I refused. No one seems to think its a problem and I think thats why there are so many over weight kids and babies around. Meanwhile I am worried that I gave him too much solids on a spoon even… she advised me to add MORE solids to a bottle!!! and justified it by the fact that her mom was a nanny for 10 years and did it all the time . wonder how many of those babies (now adults) are stuggling with weight problems.

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      • missyjacobs

        i’d say they had too much grease and take-out/fast-food/junk food as kids sure wasn’t rice cereal in a bottle, not unless they way over did and had way to much at EVERY feed or something.

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      • Olivia

        Umm your child is nine months old, it’s recommended to have them off the bottle at 12 so I’m not sure why you would be thinking less solids, no one can stay full on liquids talk to your doctor

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