When Grandma starts nudging you to offer your 2-month-old rice cereal, you might be wondering if it’s safe. After all, rice cereal is easy to digest and well tolerated by babies, and for 50 years, it was Baby’s first food. Then again, lately rice cereal has earned a bad reputation for its high levels of arsenic. So, is rice cereal safe for babies? And what’s the best way to introduce it? If you’re confused about offering rice cereal to your baby, let us steer you in the right direction. 

Are infant cereals good for babies?

Around 6 months of age, when babies are ready to take their first slurp of solid foods, their needs for certain nutrients, like iron, rise significantly. Infant cereals are fortified with iron to help oxygen travel in the red blood cells and for healthy brain development. If babies miss out on getting the iron they need, iron deficiency can develop, hampering learning, growing, and appetite. In addition to serving up a healthy dose of iron, infant cereals offer many other nutrient must-haves, including calories for energy and growth, folate, zinc, protein, and B vitamins. 

What is rice cereal?

Rice cereal is one popular type of baby cereal. It’s made from rice that’s been ground up into a fortified powder. With a generous splash of liquid (like formula or breastmilk) it’s an easy food for new eaters to chow down. The issue is that rice cereal contains arsenic, a natural element found in the Earth’s crust that’s present in the air, water, and soil, which gets into crops as they grow. As rice grows, it tends to soak arsenic up more arsenic than other crops—so even though arsenic is present in lots of foods, it’s especially concentrated in rice. And because arsenic is a known carcinogen, it could threaten a baby’s health and development if overeaten…which can sound pretty scary.

Is rice cereal safe for babies?

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), yes, rice cereal is safe, as long as it’s consumed in small amounts. Arsenic can’t be removed from rice, so instead baby cereal products must undergo testing to make sure the arsenic level is low enough to keep little eaters safe. In 2020, the FDA released up-to-date guidance on safe levels of arsenic in rice cereal to be at or below 100 parts per billion (ppb). So what does that mean for your family? In short, you can offer your baby rice cereal sometimes, but it should never be your tot’s only source of nutrition. 

Do I have to give my baby rice cereal?

No! Rice cereal is not a necessary food for babies, and even the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says rice cereal doesn’t have to be a first food. Alternatives to rice cereal are readily available in stores and have similar or better nutritional value to rice cereal. Babies are at a higher risk of experiencing the harmful effects of arsenic because their still-growing bodies are vulnerable, so many parents are more comfortable with cereal derived from a different type of grain.

Rice cereal alternatives 

  • Oat cereal
  • Multigrain cereal
  • Barley cereal
  • Millet cereal
  • Quinoa cereal

How to reduce arsenic in your baby’s diet:

If rice cereal is a pantry staple in your kitchen, there are several ways to keep your baby’s exposure to arsenic to a minimum.

  • Limit rice cereal to twice a week or skip it altogether.
  • Choose alternative grains that your baby can eat daily. 
  • Offer your baby a wide variety of iron-rich foods, like pureed beans, pureed meats, pureed chicken, pureed fish, scrambled eggs, and pureed vegetables. 
  • Avoid using rice cereal as a thickening agent for formula or breastmilk, and talk to your baby’s pediatrician about an infant formula that contains a thickener. 
  • Check the Clean Label Project’s top five list of baby cereals with low contaminants.

How do I know if my baby is ready for cereal?

Though older family members may drop hints that it’s time to add cereal to your baby’s repertoire, hold off on introducing foods too early! It’s not until your baby reaches that half-year mark that their digestive tract is mature enough to handle cereal. (Learn more about feeding your baby solid foods like cereal.)

Ideally, babies should exclusively breastfeed or formula feed for six months. Babies start showing signs that they may be ready to explore the world of solid foods when they sit up with good head, neck, and trunk control and show interest in eating, which tends to happen around the half-year mark. 

Will adding rice cereal to my baby’s bottle help them sleep?

The AAP strongly advises against adding rice cereal—or any cereal—to a bottle to enhance a baby’s sleep duration. Adding these grains to a bottle makes it thicker, posing a risk of choking and rapid weight gain. If you have concerns about your baby’s sleep, give your pediatrician a ring.

Can I thicken my baby’s bottle with rice cereal?

Adding cereal to a bottle has been a long-time habit for families for lots of reasons. Some parents feel it helps their babies stay full for longer, and others believe it helps prevent excessive spit-up episodes. 

However mixing cereal into your baby’s milk can increase their risk of gagging and choking during their feeding. On top of that, it can cause them to overdose on calories, giving them far more than they need and increasing their weight quickly. If your baby has problems with swallowing or reflux, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor.

How do I offer infant cereal to my baby?

Stir one tablespoon of cereal in a bowl with four to five tablespoons of breastmilk or iron-fortified infant formula. Spoon-feed this soup-like mixture to your baby until they show signs they’re full. If your baby has had plain cereal before and you know they’re not allergic, you can start mixing some fruit puree into the cereal for a fun flavor change-up.


About Gabrielle McPherson

Gabrielle McPherson, MS, RDN, LDN is registered dietitian in Missouri who specializes in community and pediatric nutrition. Gaby is passionate about encouraging families to eat well in simple, practical ways that are realistic...and delicious! When not working, Gaby loves cooking, baking, and making messes and memories with her sous-chef/preschooler Charlotte.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.