For many parents, the newborn period is a rollercoaster of events and emotions in the truest sense: you’re so excited to have welcomed your new baby (congratulations!), but alongside the surges of joy, peace, and love you experience while snuggling your new little one you also often find yourself anxious about their feeding, sleep, digestion, or that red mark on the back of their neck (is that normal?). Heightening these concerns, you’re often wading through them in a state of exhaustion–because normal sleeping patterns during this developmental phase mean lots short naps and night feeds. If you ask yourself, Will Adding Rice Cereal to My Baby’s Bottle Improve Their Sleep? – you’ve come to the right place! Let’s dive in..
Despite this normal biological sleep pattern at this stage, many new parents worry that their baby isn’t sleeping well, or look for methods or strategies that could potentially increase the stretches of their baby’s overnight sleep. Many well-meaning grandparents, great-aunts, and neighbors will often encourage parents to add rice cereal to their baby’s bottle at night in order to improve their sleep. On the surface, the logic behind this may seem sound: rice cereal, some might argue, will help increase the amount of calories your baby is taking in right before bed. The consistency will be thicker than normal breastmilk or infant formula, making babies feel more full and therefore less likely to wake after a short stretch of sleep in search of their next meal. So, are these promises true? Will adding rice cereal to your baby’s bottle improve their sleep?
Unfortunately, the answer to this is a definitive “no.” When looked at closer, the logic behind this trick simply does not stand up to scientific scrutiny and biological reality. While it may increase the thickness of milk, rice cereal will significantly alter milk’s nutritional composition–it will increase carbohydrates and decrease the fat content per ounce of milk that is essential for a newborn’s brain growth and development. Depending on the time of day and the caloric content of your milk at that time, you may also be significantly decreasing the caloric content of your milk per ounce–effectively achieving the opposite of the intention behind adding rice cereal in the first place.
The presumption that making a baby feel more “full” immediately prior to putting them to sleep will cause them to wake up less frequently also simply ignores the science that newborn night wakings also occur for reasons other than simply needing to eat. In addition to taking in calories and fat throughout the night for optimal growth and development, newborn wakings can occur as a result of immature nervous systems that simply aren’t able to consolidate sleep the way that older infants and adults do. This means that your newborn is likely to wake in the night regardless of their milk intake.
Studies back this understanding of newborn biology. Multiple peer reviewed studies have demonstrated no difference in the sleeping patterns of newborns who have been given rice cereal in their bottles prior to sleep, including the age at which newborns first began sleeping through the night.
Apart from being ineffective and negatively impacting newborn nutritional intake, there is a more dangerous potential outcome from adding rice cereal to your baby’s bottle: it is a choking hazard. The suck and swallow reflexes in many newborns are still developing, and effectively feeding with a thicker solution of milk or formula with the addition of rice cereal is a skill that is beyond some newborn’s level of coordination. As a result, babies may inhale small amounts of the rice cereal and milk solution, potentially causing acute choking episodes or long-term pulmonary issues.
While adding rice cereal to your baby’s bottle in an attempt to increase the length of stretches they sleep overnight is one piece of advice you should summarily dismiss; adding rice cereal to bottles has its place as a strategy to deal with reflux in some babies. This should be done under the direction of your baby’s primary care provider, who can help you determine when this feeding strategy may be appropriate, and what ratio of rice cereal to milk will be safe and effective for your baby to try.