Just when you thought the food products you’ve purchased especially for your infant were safe, the dangers of rice cereal were unveiled. Rice cereal has been linked with childhood obesity, allergies, and several other health problems caused by the introduction of these grains into an infant’s diet. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, breast milk is the ultimate choice of nutrition for babies until their first birthday. The only alternative to breast milk is infant formula with iron. Solid foods should not be introduced until the child is 4 to 6 months old. When it’s time to introduce solids, pediatricians such as Dr. Alan Greene and Dr. William Sears recommended steering clear of rice cereal.
Aspiration in infants occurs when liquids or solid foods “go down the wrong pipe” and enter the airway and lungs. Starting solids too early, before 4 months of age, increases the child’s risk of aspiration because of a lack of oral motor skills. Young infants do not have the mechanics to chew their food, and instead, have a tendency to suck.
One out of every three children in the United States is overweight or obese, according to the Institute of Medicine. Pediatricians such as Greene say they believe the rising number of overweight children stems from the way children are fed in the U.S. Rice cereal is considered an empty-calorie food, and those types of refined grains make up the top source of calories for children ages 2 to 18. Rice cereal has little nutritional value, and becomes almost 100 percent glucose as it reaches the intestines.
Infants that experience food allergies generally suffer from symptoms such as gas, rashes, constipation, hives, diarrhea, irritability, difficulty sleeping and chronic eczema. According to the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, rice is considered a hypoallergenic, but rice allergies can occur when an infant is exposed to rice allergens. Breastfeeding until the infant is at least 6 months of age is known to help children avoid food allergies, although it cannot guarantee that prevention of rice allergies.
Infant’s intestines are not yet mature enough to properly screen rice cereal, potentially allowing dangerous substances into their delicate systems. In an older child, IgA, an immunoglobulin protein, is secreted from the intestines to prevent the introduction of harmful allergens. In infants, however, the amount of IgA is low, making it easier for allergens to enter the infant’s system. For this reason, rice cereal should be delayed until the baby’s intestinal system has time to mature, generally by 6 months of age.