Rice cereal is the first food of choice for many infants--it is easy to digest, gluten-free and rarely causes allergic reactions or sensitivities. Some infants may benefit from an early introduction to solid food due to a variety of factors. In these cases, rice cereal is often added to thicken formula or breast milk, and is drunk through a bottle with a widened hole in the nipple. Generally speaking, do not introduce solid foods until your baby is at least four months old unless your pediatrician says otherwise. This is the age when an infant's digestive system is developed enough to handle solids.
Rice cereal can be used to thicken formula for babies prone to colic or gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD). Babies with GERD tend to spit up copiously; the extra weight of the rice cereal can help these babies keep their formula down. There are some formula products with rice cereal already added that can be used for this purpose. Breast milk also may be thickened with cereal if it has been pumped first.
Helping with Sleep
Mothers are sometimes advised to try formula or breast milk thickened with rice cereal to help babies sleep better. There is no data to support this theory, nor has it been definitively disproven. Some pediatricians consider this advice an old wives' tale, while other pediatricians are open to trying the approach, particularly with babies who also show signs of GERD.
Increasing Calorie Intake
Formula or breast milk thickened with rice cereal is more dense in calories than formula or breast milk alone. This means it is a more efficient food to give to babies who may still be under six months but whose appetite seems to be outgrowing a liquid diet alone. Your baby will meet its caloric needs per meal faster with the rice-cereal-enhanced mixture. If your baby has doubled her birth weight, weighs more than 15 lbs., or feeds more than eight or ten times a day, the baby may be ready for more calories.