Recently I learned of a few people putting rice cereal in their babies' bottles to "help them sleep better." Although we are still exclusively breastfeeding and Lucy only gets bottles while I'm at work, I was curious about this- is it safe? Does it really work? So I did some research...and although I understand that nearly every new mom is anxious to get more sleep, what I found out not only pretty much disapproves that theory, but even shows that starting solids early (whether given in a bottle or by spoon- whether to help him/her sleep or "just because") has several negative effects.
First, there are the negatives for the baby:
- Any food being provided to the baby besides breast milk is, in essence, taking the place of breast milk. Therefore, feeding solids to baby is denying him or her the most perfect food available and replacing it with an inferior food source.
- Did you know that breast milk protects baby's digestive system? The amazing properties of breastmilk helps protect baby from illnesses like diarrhea.
- Exclusively breastfed babies get fewer colds and ear infections.
- Feeding cereal in a bottle or by spoon is proven ineffective at helping baby sleep better. In fact, it actually makes the situation worse. Cereal stretches out the stomach, and baby becomes used to an unnatural feeling of "fullness." As a result, baby must eat more before bed to sleep as soundly. There are some indications that starting solids early can potentially lead to childhood obesity later. Adding cereal also creates a choking hazard, whether in a bottle or given by spoon.
- Baby's digestive system simply isn't designed to handle solids until about six months. Therefore, starting solids early can result in stomach upset, gas, constipation, etc. etc.
- Early introduction of solids can result in greater likelihood of food allergies.
- Forcing infants into a deep sleep in the early months can increase the risk of SIDS.
Then, there are negatives for mama:
- Trying to force baby into sleeping longer has a negative effect on breast milk production. When baby doesn't nurse as frequently, the body responds by producing less milk. This can further complicate things for mamas who already have supply issues.
- Did you know that cutting out nighttime feedings can actually result in returning to fertility sooner? Research shows that women who night wean get their periods back sooner than those who don't. In fact, LLL recommends night weaning for women who are anxious to become pregnant again sooner. I don't know about you, but I've been enjoying not having my monthly visitor, even if I can't take advantage of LAM or ecological breastfeeding (since I work during the day and Lucy takes a pacifier).
Organizations who recommend NOT starting solids until six months (breastmilk exclusively):
- World Health Organization, American Academy of Pediatrics, US Dept of Health and Human Services, among many, many others.
Bottom line: feeding cereal does NOT help babies sleep through the night. Worse, it has negative effects on both mama and baby and can even be dangerous. Children who are breast fed do not nutritionally require solids until long after many parents choose to introduce them.