If you have a baby, you’re probably getting advice (from all corners!) on how to feed her. Everybody can agree these days that mom’s own milk is the best food for babies, but after that, there can be a lot of confusion. I’m going to focus today on the transition from human milk or formula to “solid foods.”
Some new parents are being advised by relatives that they should start the baby on solids, (which usually means baby rice cereal) basically, as soon as possible. This may be because several years ago mothers were actually being advised by their pediatricians to start rice cereal at earlier and earlier ages. The hope was that adding rice cereal to the bottle (and that’s what we’re talking about, because a typical baby less than four months old is not going to slurp food off a spoon) would help the baby sleep through the night, or eat less often, or have less spit-up. This advice is no longer being given, except by the well-meaning grandmothers who are passing on what they were told. Still, you can find “infant feeders” in the baby section of stores which are basically just bottles with an extra large hole in the nipple, to allow the thicker cereal mixture to come through. (Just because something is sold in stores doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to buy and use, even with baby supplies.)
Giving a baby solid foods early is not going to make him sleep through the night at a younger age. Babies do tend to sleep longer periods of time as they get older, and they start solids when they get older, but giving solids to a three month old is not going to turn her into a seven month old. Babies sleep through the night when they sleep through the night (and you should know that the technical definition of this is “greater than five hours of sleep,” not the eight hours you’re dreaming of). There are things you can do to encourage this behavior, but that will have to be the topic of another post. Feeding solids to a baby less than four months old is not going to get them to sleep for longer periods. It may help with spitting up, but I wouldn’t advise it unless the problem is severe. It will lead to weight gain, and I think we’ve all figured out that this is not necessarily a good thing. For many babies, rice cereal will cause constipation.