New parents often crave one thing – sleep. There are moments that it seems they’d do almost anything to gain an extra hour tucked away in their bed. Instead, many nights are spent trying to soothe and comfort their baby.
Friends and family begin to offer tips or tricks that worked for their children, and rumblings of old wives’ tales start to rise.
One of those tales is adding something more to the baby’s bottle will help them sleep through the night. Adding rice cereal or adding oatmeal is said to help improve babies’ sleep, but is it safe?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), this is not a safe practice.
Negative Side Effects
Weight Gain and Overfed
One problem with adding cereal in a bottle is that babies tend to overfeed and experience weight gain. There are a certain number of calories in an ounce of formula or breast milk.
The babies’ body naturally adjusts to the consumption of this amount and lets the parents know if they need more.
By putting rice cereal in the bottle, you increase the number of calories the baby will consume that their body doesn’t need.
Babies have a tongue reflex that doesn’t go away until around the six-month mark. Therefore, any infant under six months old will push solid foods out of their mouth.
If they can’t remove the solid food, it will be difficult for them to swallow. That’s why anything added to the bottle like oatmeal or cereal can cause them to gag and possibly choke.
You can start to introduce solid foods around the six-month mark, per doctor recommendations. Some babies may be ready at four months, but not all babies reach milestones at the same pace.
Increased Risk of Food Allergies
Introducing solid foods too early leads to the development of food allergies and other conditions.
When babies start solid foods too soon, there is a higher chance they will develop eczema, celiac disease, diabetes, or childhood obesity.
Babies younger than four months should be fed breastmilk or formula only. Most recommendations state that babies should have only breastmilk or formula for the first six months.
Baby Has Yet To Develop the Correct Motor Skills
Although we don’t think about it, eating solid foods requires developed motor skills.
It’s second nature to us, but babies can struggle to sit in high-chairs and have difficulty controlling their heads and neck before six months.
Once these skills have developed, and the doctor says it’s okay, you can start solid foods.
One sign you can watch to decide if your baby is ready will be when they express interest in your food by reaching or grabbing at your fork or plate.
Is it an Effective Sleep Aid?
The Cleveland Clinic conducted a study on one hundred and six infants to test this theory. Randomly, they were assigned one tablespoon of rice cereal per ounce of fluid to drink at bedtime.
One day per week, caretakers recorded sleep patterns on infants from four weeks to 21 weeks. They defined sleeping through the night as eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.
Eventually, they found no relation between adding cereal to a baby bottle and how well the infant slept.
Is it Ever a Good Idea?
In some cases, pediatricians might recommend specific diets for babies that have special needs.
If the infant suffers from dysphagia or acid reflux, the AAP does suggest using oatmeal.
Follow the doctors’ recommendations because the treated condition determines the amount of oatmeal used.
Tips for Feeding in Special Circumstances
- If you are putting cereal in a bottle with pumped breast milk, mix it immediately before feeding your infant. Mixing too early will cause enzymes in the breastmilk to break down the oatmeal, thus, defeating the purpose of adding it. When you are mixing with formula, 20 to 30 minutes before feeding is acceptable.
- Increasing the size of the nipple will allow the oatmeal to flow freely.
- Feeding more modest but more frequent meals may help with reducing reflux and prevent weight gain.
When Should I Introduce Oatmeal?
At six months old, it is safe to introduce solid foods to your little one. Your pediatrician will likely recommend introducing easy-to-chew foods such as oatmeal, tender meats, and tender vegetables.
Oatmeal is commonly chosen as a first food because it’s a great source of healthy carbohydrates and is typically fortified with iron.
It can be prepared with breastmilk, water, formula, or cow’s milk and served with a spoon.
As they adjust to the new food, you can try adding things to the base dish of oatmeal. Spices, mashed fruits, ground nuts, or smooth nut butters mix well with oatmeal.
If you’ve checked with your doctor and are ready to start feeding your little one oatmeal, here is one recipe you can use.
It takes one minute to prepare the blended oats and another five to mix, so it’s ready to serve.
1/2 cup Old Fashioned Oats
Breastmilk, formula, or water
Instructions for one serving for infants six months or older
- With a food processor, pulse oats for 15 to 30 seconds. When you are finished, it should be in a powder consistency.
- Boil 1/2 cup of liquid to a boil. Add in 2 tablespoons of the oat powder (and cinnamon, but this is optional).
- Whisk for about 30 seconds continuously, and then intermittently for another 3-5 minutes. It should begin to thicken. If you’d like a thinner consistency, add more liquid.
You can store the oat powder in a cool place for approximately three months. For every 1/2 cup of oats blended, you can make about 4-6 servings.
What About Rice Cereal?
Rice cereal is another food that is commonly introduced to babies first. It is a good source of iron and easy on the digestive system.
Rice Absorbs Arsenic
However, there are potential dangers to feeding infants rice cereal. It’s been proven that rice absorbs arsenic from the environment, and in large amounts, can affect neurological development.
Between 2011 and 2013, researchers tested levels of arsenic in rice. Based on the results, the Federal Drug Administration released guidelines on April 1, 2016, regulating the amount of the toxin that could be in baby products.
Manufacturers were able to find better sources that led to lower amounts of arsenic found in their products.
If you are feeding your baby rice products, the recommendation is to serve no more than 1/4 cup per day.
Alternatives to Oatmeal and Rice
As mentioned above, oatmeal is a great first food to give your baby. Within limits, so is rice. But what are the other options available?
Barley, quinoa, buckwheat, and multigrain blends can all be introduced to your six-month-old.
Many of these choices will have a similar consistency to oatmeal; however, they offer different textures. They are good alternatives to rice if your baby doesn’t like oatmeal or if you’re ready to introduce new foods.
Sometimes, It’s Best to Leave Old Wives Tails in The Past
Giving your baby a bottle with oatmeal or rice cereal may have worked for your mother or grandmother. It might even work for you and your baby.
But, when the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends not using this old wives’ tale, it’s probably safer to avoid this trick.
If you think your baby is giving you cues they are ready to start solid foods, mention it the next time you visit the pediatrician.
Keep an open dialogue with them, and you’ll be feeding your baby solids before you know it.