Baby Bottles and Cereal

Baby Bottles and Cereal
Q:
Baby Bottles and Cereal

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

A:

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?”

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.

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.

And 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.

 

Footnote 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.

 

Reviewed by: Khanh-Van Le-Bucklin, Rebecca Hicks
Last reviewed: October 13, 2014
Dr. Alan Greene

Article written by

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.

 

Comments

  • http://www.facebook.com/leanna.workover Leanna Suzi Salcido

    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.

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • Rachel

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

  • 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.