Breast milk is the ideal food for newborns, and provides your baby with all the important nutrients she needs. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breast-feeding until at least 6 months, when solid foods are usually introduced. People who were young parents when formula feeding and using a bottle first became common may suggest adding rice cereal to a bottle for babies who seem to be growing slowly or don’t sleep through the night. However, there are a number of problems with giving baby cereal to newborns.
Newborns protect themselves from choking with a tongue-thrust reflex. Anything placed on the tongue is automatically shoved forward and out of the mouth. Babies are not ready to chew, either, because this is another mechanism that does not develop until about 4 to 6 months old. Although the tongue-thrust reflex isn't dangerous to your baby, it does prevent her from taking baby cereal in a spoon.
A healthy newborn has a well-developed sucking reflex. A baby’s swallowing reflex works in tandem with the sucking reflex. The two mechanisms can work together with liquids such as milk, but if you try to feed cereal to your baby, she doesn’t know how to get the food to the back of the mouth so it can be swallowed, and will move it randomly around without swallowing. Holding food in the mouth increases the risk that your baby will inhale cereal and choke.
Babies are more likely to develop allergies if given solid foods too soon. A baby’s intestinal tract is the filtering system that screens out potentially harmful substances and allergens. A newborn’s immature intestines can allow potentially allergenic food molecules into the baby’s system, causing life-long allergies to food. By the time your baby is about 6 months old, the intestines have developed more fully and can handle foods such as cereal.
A final and very important reason not to feed newborns baby cereal, especially mixed in a baby bottle with formula or breast milk, is to prevent obesity. Pediatrician Alan Greene notes that babies learn to self-regulate their food intake by the volume of milk they drink. When cereal is added to the bottle, a baby is taking in many more calories in the same volume of food. This practice increases the risk of obesity by teaching a baby to overeat.