It is a common old wives' tale that has been circulated among new mothers since the inception of bottle feeding: Place a few tiny spoonfuls of baby cereal flakes in the baby's formula bottle, and the infant will sleep better at night. In fact, babies do sleep more contentedly with a full stomach, and some infants eagerly slurp up the enriched formula and extra calories. Yet some researchers caution parents against placing baby cereal in a bottle. Experts warn that this practice can cause health problems in infants, such as choking, overeating and obesity.
The advantages of feeding a baby cereal in a bottle are few and particular. For an undernourished or underweight infant, the introduction of baby food in the formula may help the child thrive. Baby food adds more calories than breast milk or plain formulas, and the sickly child will benefit from the easy extra meal. Infants suffering from reflux, in which the lower esophageal sphincter muscle is too relaxed or defective, may also benefit from baby cereal in a bottle, as solid food tends to settle in the stomach more easily than liquids.
While it is generally true that babies sleep more contentedly with a full stomach, baby cereal in a bottle does not seem to affect babies six months old and younger. The digestive system of an infant is best suited for small portions and frequent feedings every few hours. An early introduction of solid foods did little the change this. According to a study conducted at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in 1989, babies who were fed baby cereal slept no longer than babies who were fed only liquid food.
There are more disadvantages than advantages to feeding an infant baby cereal in a bottle. Some pediatricians suspect that infants fed solid food before four months are more prone to developing food allergies. Some infants are unable to suck the thicker fluid properly and may aspirate the food. For most healthy infants, the additional calories from baby cereal are unnecessary and may cause weight problems as a child develops.
Rather than supplementing bottle contents with baby cereal, pediatricians and nutritionists recommend that parents slowly introduce solid foods at some time halfway through the infant's first year. Babies usually express a natural interest in solid foods when a liquid diet no longer satisfies them. Parents should begin with diluted rice cereal and other types of baby food and slowly introduce more solid, healthy baby food to the child's diet. When the child is physiologically ready, he or she will adjust to the new diet, learn to use a spoon, and sleep through the night.