Q. My daughter is five weeks old and very fussy. My mom says to add a little cereal to her bottle. Does this help and will it help her sleep through the night?
A. While many well-meaning family members, and sometimes even doctors, recommend this practice, it is a really poor habit that can have health consequences for your baby.
There is no proof that early introduction of solids helps babies sleep. This misconception may stem from the fact that adults often feel a little sleepy or drowsy after a large, high carbohydrate meal, but the same has not been shown to hold true for infants.
We must remember that a baby's stomach is not ready to digest starches until age 4-6 months. Breast milk and formula contain milk sugar, which is easily digested, but infant cereal contains starch, which is not easily digested by infants until later on. Therefore, giving cereal can cause intestinal distress, including cramping, bloating, diarrhea or excessive gas.
In addition, some evidence suggests that babies given cereal in the bottle tend to over-eat, the reason being this: cereal cannot pass through the normal size opening in a nursing bottle nipple, and so the parent often cuts a wider hole in the bottle. Now, too much can be easily sucked through. In addition, young infants are not able to manipulate thicker consistencies of food in their mouths, (it flows differently then milk) and it may cause choking.
There is also a good deal of evidence that early introduction of inappropriate foods may produce allergies that could be avoided by waiting for the correct age for introduction.
Of course, these negative consequences do not happen to *every* baby, but it is not worth risking it, when the "benefit" is largely a myth.
Even when babies are old enough to digest and absorb different types of solid food, it is still not a good idea to add cereal to the bottle. Eating off of a spoon is an important step in oral-motor development, which is also involved in language skills. Giving the cereal in a bottle instead of off the spoon deprives the baby of much needed practice and exercise of the muscle control and development that is so important at this stage.