Starting Solids – Why I Don’t Recommend Baby Rice

with 26 Comments

The phase of starting babies on solid food is currently one of hot debate with conflicting information. This is representative of the current climate of change in nutrition globally. The aim of this blog post is to shed some light on this, look at our current guidelines compared to other research and also show why I am strong opposed to starting babies off on baby rice or any other variation of infant cereal.

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Up until six months of age, babies obtain all the nutrients they require from breast milk or formula. Just as a side note here for those that do not know my previous challenges with breastfeeding you can read this here. Breast milk has low amounts of iron – when you look at the typical composition it is virtually none. However, babies are born with enough iron supplies to last through to six months of age. Formula typically has a little bit more iron than breast milk – however it is low overall, again for the reason that babies have enough iron supplies at birth.

Our current World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines recommend exclusive breastfeeding/formula feeding until this six month mark. This is something I strongly advocate for. Here is where the confusion can often start as in New Zealand, some health care providers recommend from 4-6 months. In my expert experience in working with mums the percentage of babies physically ready to start solids at four months of age is very small. And no, starting solids is not something that may help babies start to sleep through the night – if anything it can actually make sleep go backwards as their digestive system is learning to adapt to this, more so if they are not ready and/or are given baby rice which will add to digestive discomfort.

The low drop off in iron stores at six months has previously been the driving reason for the recommendations to start babies off on an iron fortified baby rice cereal. While, yes this is a concern for infants, through providing nutrient dense baby food (from real food) this can be overcome without having to use a processed product which babies gastrointestinal tracts are not ready for.

Enzymes

It takes two years for a babies GI tract (gastrointestinal tract) to be fully developed. Over this period babies and children will be physically adjusting to different foods. Specifically, in order for the body to digest grains it uses an enzyme called amylase (this is responsible for splitting the starches present in grains). At around six months of age babies start to produce small amounts of salivary amalyse but pancreatic amylase which is required to fully break down grains, is not produced until about the age of 12 months when the molar teeth are fully developed (Edwards & Parrett, 2002, British Journal of Nutrition).

Grains which are not digested can really impact on a babies GI tract. In particular the lining of the intestine can be affected, upsetting the delicate balance of bacteria which can decrease immunity and also decrease the body’s ability to absorb key nutrients. This can also result in digestive cramping, bloating, discomfit and overall irritability. There is some research to suggest that the introduction of grains may play a role in the development of certain food allergies and in tolerances as well. There will be variation between infants in their ability to digest grains especially as the small amount of salivary amylase will partially break down the glucose molecule bonds – this makes it tricky as parents to determine just how much your baby is being affected by grains.

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Insulin Response

In addition to the digestive discomfort, grains of any kind, especially those highly processed, require the production of insulin in order for the carbohydrate to be taken up by the cells. Excessive amounts of insulin production long term can affect metabolism, blood sugar regulation, increase the risk of type two diabetes and weight management difficulties. New research has been emerging over the last few years on this response in adults, including from my colleges and PhD supervisor Grant Scholfield. While further research is required to understand the long-term implications of the impact of excessive insulin production in infants, the basis of a optimal diet is formed from good vegetable, protein and fat intake – starting babies off on this is paramount.

Lack of Nutrients

Unlike vegetables and meat, baby cereals lack in overall nutrients. They provide high energy but not the vitamins and minerals that babies require. In particular vitamin A, folate, zinc, calcium are not provided in baby cereals. For example 1 tablespoon of carrots give enough Vitamin A for the whole day for a baby 6-10 months old (WHO). Regardless of if you do start with baby rice, it is crucial to introduce nutrient dense food sources (vegetables, meat/meat alternative sources and fat). Given babies often do not consume huge amounts of food over the first few months, starting off with these foods will ensure that they are getting the key nutrients they require.

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Habit and Preparation

Habit and practicing the preparation of meals are key to children eating well long term. Vegetables in particular is something that many parents struggle getting into little ones. Starting children off on vegetables can play a key role in saving these battles, it is a lot harder adjusting to their taste when babies have had other foods, especially those that are processed. In addition the preparation involved is important for parents to get used to – and trying to use as much of the family meals as possible and adapt them to babies makes life significantly easier! This is one of the key reasons I created Healthy Easy Dinners for Busy Mums!

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So what do you start babies off on?

Interestingly enough the WHO and UNICEF both recommend “introduction of nutritionally-adequate and safe complementary (solid) foods at 6 months together with continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond”.

In the WHO Complementary Feeding Guide the recommendations are to start babies off on foods which are:

*Rich in nutrients and energy

*Clean and safe

*Affordable

*Easy to prepare from family meals

What is key here is that, there is no mention of baby rice at all – the only suggestion is to start with a stable food in your particular country of origin.

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I would recommend starting with a vegetable such as pumpkin or butternut pumpkin – both have a lot of natural flavour and are easy on the GI tract. Once babies have adjusted to this, quickly (within 1-4 weeks into the starting solids journey depending on development) adding a form of meat such as chicken, or even the chicken stock into the puree this is to ensure babies are getting a high source of iron, fat and vitamin B12. You can check out my Butternut Pumpkin Puree here.

A note on bought baby food – I do recommend making your food at home, I know it takes time but a lot of bought baby food just does not compare nutritionally. Always check the back of the label, many contain sugar and/or rice even if it says ‘lamb and peas’ on the front. I have really helpful hints on how to make baby food easy in my blog here and equipment that will honestly save you time!

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Starting solids is a journey and right now it can be tricky to know if what you are doing is ‘right’ especially with conflicting information out there and a food industry which is heavily influenced by global brands. For more help check out my Starting Solids Electronic Guide (which is only $14.99). In addition I do a special starting solids consultation over skype any where in the world which will give you a step-by-step plan specific to your baby (just click here to book this).

starting solids ebook Dr Julie Bhosale

Plus – Keep watch for some of my upcoming talks in 2017 with special sleep consultants as guest speakers, as these events are a great chance to ask me questions one-on-one!

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xxx Dr Julie Bhosale

26 Responses

  1. Ginny
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    Two questions:
    Is it okay to use cows milk when cooking for babies?
    And
    At what age do you suggest changing to feeding solids first before breastmilk/formula? (Instead of milk then solids)
    Thank you 🙂

    • Julie Bhosale
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      Hi Ginny, cooking with cows milk is ok – I always like to test this on it’s own first just in case of a reaction (diary) and I always caution against offering it as a snack as babies like to fill up with this – formular/breastmilk will do that job for them. I have always started by offering food first then topping up with milk not the other way around – for the same reason as above – chances are they won’t eat much of the food if they have already had milk!

  2. April
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    Good article. Although I would’ve thought that babies would have high levels of amylase due to breastmilk being predominantly carbohydrate?

    • Julie Bhosale
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      Hi April – good question – different CHO in breastmilk – it’s predominantly lactose – so different digestive enzymes required, also breastmilk contains reasonable levels of protein and fat 🙂

  3. Emily
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    Hi Julie, I objected to serving baby rice too so I’m pleased to read your thoughts. I’ve made all my own baby food and so far bubs is an awesome eater thank goodness. Wondering if I should be taking it easy on couscous/quinoa/pasta/oats/vogels? I haven’t noticed him having too many digestive difficulties and he eats a lot of these mixed in with heaps of vege & meat. He’s now 9 months… Thanks!

    • Julie Bhosale
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      Hi Emily, good question am writing a blog on oats right now – this is a good one to start on in terms of grains, no wheat in it so an easy first step – I see some babies ready for this around 10 months (especially if like you they havn’t started off with rice and then experienced digestive problems which takes a long time to heal)

  4. Jane
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    Thanks so much for sharing. This is really great information and timely as I begin the journey of solids with my 6 month old. We have tried pear, Apple, pumpkin and orange kumara (separately) on and off for the past month or so and his system seems to reject it. He doesn’t seem in pain but he does 3-4 poos in the 12 hours afterwards and they’re explosive (sorry so graphic!). I have been recommended to try baby rice as it might be more gentle on his tum but I would much rather give him whole foods as much and for as long as possible. Thoughts on what else I could try? Or should I persevere with the foods I tried above in the hope he’ll get used to them? Many thanks

    • Julie Bhosale
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      Hi Jane, by the sounds of things his tummy is taking some time to adjust – I would stay clear of the baby rice especially in this case. I am a big fan of going back to basics, just cut right back to just some pumpkin and kumara – just for a week or two (don’t worry he will be fine with this, babies don’t get bored of food like we do!) this will give his tummy time to re-set, plus you can see more clearly just what are problem foods – remember it takes 2 years for their GI tract to develop and it’s not always a straight upwards progression 🙂 hope that helps!

  5. Amy
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    I would love your advice on what to do if your baby won’t actually open their mouth to try solids, our son is 6 months and one week and just doesn’t seem interested!

    • Julie Bhosale
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      Just wait 🙂 there’s no rush! Try offering before milk feeds (if you are not already) and – hate to say it, let them get a bit messy. Get a good bib, pop the bowl in front of them and let them explore…even if it doesn’t go in! My youngest went through a stage where only he was allowed to feed himself (completely) drove me bonkers when I was tired and couldn’t handle the mess! Plus choose your timing e.g if mornings are super rushed (other kids, work etc) leave it to a more relaxed time:)

  6. Kara Matuszewski
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    Hi Julie
    What do you recommend as snacks/lunch for a 7 month old? has plain egg omlette,hard cheese (edam) toast fingers, banana, some greek yog occasionally, thin soft kumara and potato wedges,baby muesli in morning and was introduced to solids at just over 5m like older brother as milk was not cutting it alone, i don’t give fruit apart from the banana as i dont like them to end up with a sweet tooth, started on veges only and then at 6m chicken and beef too, only food made by myself. I just feel like he gets same things and I obviously have to be a little cautious as he has no teeth to chew through things a great deal ( older brother had 6 by now!) he is a fantastic eater and i just want to keep that up as we don’t like processed food for the kids! Thank you!!!

    • Julie Bhosale
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      Hi Kara! You do have a hungry munchkin that’s for sure! How many milk feeds a day? I really try and keep the snacking down – good breakie, lunch dinner times (lunch can be often two small lunches around a sleep) and then just what you have above is good! You could also start getting some peanut butter/almond butter in (even on a spoon or slices of cheese) which would be great good fats and protein. You will probably find he is ready for grains earlier – some babies are more around 10 months.

  7. Emma
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    Wish I had found your website earlier, I am going to stop the baby rice. These makes so much sense. Thank you

    • Julie Bhosale
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      It’s really hard with such conflicting information out there! Pleased to have helped!

  8. Kim
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    Hi
    What are the recommendations that you know of for how much protein the baby needs? Like what breakdown of fats vs carbs vs protein. Our baby is 6 months and has been on solids a month. I make my own food like kumera, avacado,carrot etc She still has her milk feeds and eats a lot and always has. I started with one cube of beef at lunch then up to two but is there a recommendation based on weight like with adults? Thanks

    • Julie Bhosale
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      Hi Kim – This is a really common question – unfortunately I don’t have a set answer for you – not in terms of specific amounts. The growth a child does in their first year is more than they will across their entire life time – this will be very different at various stages and times. Trying to put set amounts is near impossible (to be honest that’s also my experience working with adults too, just we don’t grow as much!). When you have nutrient dense foods (protein/meat alternatives, fat and vegetables) you are not going to go wrong on amounts – babies will tell us when they are full (and also hungry) the challenge comes with processed foods and refined carbohydrate as it plays with our natural hunger/full response. So trust your baby they will guide you! It will be trial and error for them – like breastfeeding too! Hope that helps!

  9. […] my previous blog I spoke about my strong recommendation not to start children off on baby rice or infant cereal as […]

  10. Kathryn
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    Hi, Thanks for the article. I have been trying to avoid baby rice too, on the basis of wanting my 6.5month old to try things out himself, and ‘eat what we eat’. Trying to go along the baby led weaning tack. He did not want ANYTHING when we started offering food at 6 months, but the last couple of days has suddenly gone – give me food, and is loving putting things in his mouth, or letting us put things in his mouth (only 1-2tsp at moment). I’m interested in your take on salt though…because we are wanting to him to eat what we eat, I often use salt, butter, and herbs for flavour. I make everything myself, and from whole ingredients. Is some salt in a stew/soup ok for bubs, or some cheese sauce with some broccoli? I don’t really want to have to make 2 batches of things. Also, talking grains, what age can flour and bread be used. I grind wheat and make wholemeal bread with it – at what age is this suitable?

    • Julie Bhosale
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      Hi Kathryn – it’s totally fine – we have used a lot of herbs and spices in our food with both boys – we don’t overload with salt but a little bit is fine – new research is actually showing that salt is not quite the concern that it has thought to be – it’s the highly packaged foods like 2 minute noddles that are really the problem with salt but you wouldn’t want to give kids that anyway!! As some of my previous comments you can try around 10 months provided their GI tract is ok (you will be able to tell easily from their bowl motions). I tend to find babies that have started solids slowly and with lots of veggies and meat their GI tract is ready sooner as it’s not trying to repair from the early introductions of grains (if that makes sense!) all babies will develop differently so you will expect some variation in exact time.

  11. Sara
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    Does that mean you also advise against toast as an early food? (Pre 10mo)

    • Julie Bhosale
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      Definitely not as a first food – and ideally yes to hold off until after then – I do find if babies have started well – their GI tract maybe ready around 10 months for grains but you still want to keep the bulk of their diet vegetables and meat/meat alternatives just the same as us 🙂

  12. Lianne
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    Hi Julie, great article! I have a nearly 14 month old who I have always made my own food for, and has always been an awesome eater (loads of veggies, chicken and beef mince, fruit and unsweetened yogurt for breakfast). However she has started to refuse anything that requires me to feed her, but won’t eat veggies as finger food, no matter how it’s cooked. I’ve run out of ideas for getting the higher nutrient foods back into her diet more regularly, any tips would be hugely appreciated!

    • Julie Bhosale
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      Hi Lianne – 14 months is a really tricky age as children are often trying to develop their independence with eating. I often recommend to parents that sometimes taking a minimising approach can help relieve the stress i.e keep offering food – especially food they can feed themselves – lots of things like fish pie where it’s all mashed up works well – but also simply to minimise how much nutrient poor foods they are having even if it seems like they are eating lots of sandwiches for example that’s better than other options even if not jam-packed with vegies! Hope that helps! If you are in Auckland I am talking this weekend at the Auckland Toddler Talks and will be doing a starting solids event in September 🙂 Link here for you! http://www.toddlertalk.co.nz/august-toddler-parenting-workshops

  13. Kim
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    Hi what are your breakfast suggestions for an 8 month old that don’t use grains?
    Thanks
    Kim

  14. […] my previous blog on starting solids, I discussed some crucial reasons why I do not recommend starting babies on baby rice (or variation of infant cereal). I also spoke about starting off on a staple vegetable such as […]

  15. […] irritate this. This is also one of the reasons why I recommend holding off on giving babies grains (read more on this here). In addition, many foods containing gluten (including the flour itself) can be really […]