My baby is almost 8 months old and I’ve been giving her Cerelac and porridge plus breast milk since she turned six months. I recently had a discussion with friends and someone mentioned that it is dangerous to feed rice cereal to babies. I was planning on adding rice pudding to her diet. Can you tell me more about this? What should I give my baby instead?
Giving rice cereal to a baby is not a very good choice. Though it is easily digested and being bland in taste, accepted by babies easily, it is controversial. Rice cereal does not provide any fiber; hence it can cause constipation in a baby. The nutritional requirement of a baby grows as she grows older. Particularly, demand for iron and calcium is increased, along with that of calories and other nutrients. Milk does not provide any iron. Hence, most of these cereals, including rice cereal, are fortified with iron. As such, babies fed predominantly on milk tend to be constipated and iron adds to the problem. Sometimes, the iron present can cause diarrhoea as well as adverse effect.
As per some researchers, rice cereal taken during infancy can be the beginning step for obesity later in life, along with its attendant problems like causing chronic diseases like hypertension, heart problems, and etcetera. This is controversial. Because some other researchers and experts claim that childhood and adult obesity is more related to the feeding pattern, rather than rice cereal per se. This implies giving feeds whenever the baby cries or sulks to pacify him, instead of giving at fixed times as proper meals. Polished white rice used for preparing rice cereal contains no nutrients, except carbohydrates, though it fills the stomach of the child, but supplies no nutrition. In this respect, brown rice is a better choice.
All type of readymade processed cereals contains chemicals as preservatives and sometimes to enhance flavour. This may cause allergic reactions and sometimes even reduce immunity of the growing body. Freshly prepared whole grain porridge is always better than these readymade cereals. A baby of eight months can also be introduced to vegetables given in soup form or fresh vegetables can be mixed with the cereal to make it more nutritious. It is not that just giving rice cereal is very harmful or it should not be given at all. If the baby likes it and tolerates it well, there is no harm. But as I said before, it is not a good choice and giving rice cereal should be occasional.
Dr Rachna is a specialist in internal medicine at Ruhengeri Hospital. firstname.lastname@example.org