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Learn About The Three Stages Of Baby Food: When Can Babies Have Cereal?

It goes without saying that children all progress at different rates, and nowhere is this more evident than in babies. Important developments such as rolling over, crawling, standing up, walking and talking are all learned at different rates and can vary significantly from one infant to another. 

Another area which infants progress at different rates is their diet and the age at which they can begin to eat solid foods. 

A lot of new moms want to know, “When can babies have cereal?” It can vary from child to child by as much as several months, especially depending on whether you breastfeed or not.

Because babies don’t all grow at the same pace, the timeline on changing your child’s diet should not be determined by their age, but rather certain telltale signs they are ready for new types of food.

It can be helpful to understand your baby’s dietary process. Before we discuss when your baby is ready to eat cereal, we will first explain the three stages of baby food and how they relate to your baby’s diet.

Three Stages of Baby Food

Your infant’s diet is made up of of three different stages. Each successive stage not only introduces thicker foods and richer textures, but also involves expanding their diet to include new foods.

Briefly, the three stages are as follows:

  • Stage one consists of pureed liquid fruits and vegetables and very thin cereals.
  • At stage two, babies are introduced to thicker textures and consistencies, such as puddings and sauces.
  • By stage three, babies are able to eat soft chunks and items that require better swallowing skills.

It would probably be more accurate to describe breast milk or infant formula as stage one and purees and cereals as stage two. Since this would probably confuse many parents, however, your baby’s diet is not measured in this way.

Stage One

Breast milk is the best way to feed a newborn baby. However, as babies develop, they begin to need nutrients not found in their mother’s milk, so it is necessary to introduce them to new foods.

Stage one generally consists of very runny grain cereals such as rice or barley, as well as certain types of winter squash and soft, easily digestible foods. It is important to introduce new foods to your child slowly, as their tummies are still very sensitive. This also helps to alert you to food allergies they may have.

You should also choose very mild flavors, like apples or apricots, and you should not combine more than one ingredient at a time. This will help your baby digest these new flavors and ingredients. 

Remember, your baby is used to eating only breast milk or formula.

Stage Two

While stage one serves as a very basic introduction to solid foods, the cereals and purees babies eat are still mostly liquid. Stage two means it is time to experiment with thicker textures and richer flavors.

During this time, babies are introduced to new types of food, especially meat, although meat should always be pureed to gravy. This is also a good time to introduce your child to more complicated foods, such as foods with multiple ingredients.

Although your baby is ready for thicker foods, they still can have sensitive tummies. You should introduce them to new foods slowly, especially when you start combining different fruits and vegetables together. 

If you are buying baby food from a jar, it’s often a good idea to taste it before you serve it to your baby. If you don’t like the taste of the baby food, chances are your baby won’t either.

Stage Three

Sooner or later, your child needs to progress to foods that require chewing, although this also needs to be done gradually. When this time comes, your baby is ready for stage three foods. 

This usually happens around ten months, but it can be as late as a year, depending on how quickly your baby’s teeth grow in.

Stage three introduces solid food that is chewed easily, such as apple slices, cooked carrots and ground beef. This is also a good time to expand your baby’s diet and begin feeding them solid food three times a day.

By stage three, many mothers begin weaning their child off of breast milk. Some mothers prefer to breastfeed for longer, and there is nothing wrong with that either. 

Just be sure your child is getting adequate nutrition to grow and you’ll be fine.

When Your Baby Is Ready for Cereal

Most babies begin exploring solid foods between four and six months. To determine if your baby is ready to eat solid foods, pay attention to certain telltale signs.

  • Your baby can hold up her neck by herself without being propped up.
  • Your child is able to sit in a high-chair by himself.
  • Your infant shows an interest in what other people are eating.

Babies also start to lose their tongue-thrusting reflex between four to six months. This reflex helps them to breastfeed at a young age, and is an indication they are ready to begin exploring solid foods.

You should not introduce cereals to your baby prior to four months, as it is dangerous and can make your baby throw up. You should also never put cereal in your baby’s bottle unless instructed to do so by a pediatrician.

Some mothers breastfeed exclusively. Others supplement breast milk with formula, and some moms just use infant formula. 

If your child is fed only breast milk, most pediatricians recommend waiting until your baby is six months old before introducing cereal to their diet.

Why You Should Start with Cereal

You don’t have to start your baby out on cereal – pureed fruits and vegetables are acceptable as well. However, there are a number of reasons why cereal is a good choice for your baby’s first taste of solid food.

  • As babies develop, they lose some of the iron they're born with. Baby cereals that have been enriched with iron replenish this supply.
  • You can thin the cereal with either breast milk or formula. Since this is what you have been feeding your baby his whole life, the cereal becomes a natural extension of his diet.
  • Because you can adjust how much you thin the cereal, it is a versatile way to get your infant ready for more thicker textures.

Many parents prefer to start their babies with a rice cereal because it is rich in iron and because allergies are very uncommon. However, you can also go with a barley or oat cereal.

Store-bought Cereal or Homemade?

We know of some mothers who make all their own cereals at home, and we think this is great. However, not all mothers have the time or the energy to fuss with making their baby’s cereal every day. 

Fortunately, if you are interested in making your baby’s cereal at home, it isn’t rocket science. 

In fact, it’s probably one of the easiest things you’ll ever cook as a mom. 

It’s even easier than Kraft Macaroni and Cheese!

Probably the most important thing to know about cooking your own cereal is to make sure whatever grain you use – barley, rice, etc. – is ground up. You can use a food processor, a blender or even a coffee grinder to get an appropriate consistency. 

All you have to do is boil some water and add the ground grain to the boiling water. Make sure you keep everything well-stirred. 

When the grains start to solidify, add infant formula or breast milk to thin it out. You can put the finished product in a blender to smooth it out if you wish.

While cooking your own cereal is nice, it is definitely not required. You will have to set aside roughly twenty to thirty minutes to make it, and they don’t store well in the fridge or the freezer. 

If this all sounds like too much work, don’t stress it. Go to the grocery store and buy your child some baby cereal. Feeding your baby should never be a stressful activity.

Being a mother is one of the most rewarding things in life, but no one has all the answers. That is why we are happy to help you find the answers you’re looking for.

Knowing the answers to your questions can help you to be a better mother. When you know what to expect from your baby, it makes you feel more confident in motherhood.

Babies will always give you an indication that they are ready for cereal and other new foods. All you have to do is pay attention and you’ll know when your child is ready to take their first steps towards eating solid food.

Hannah Tong

Hannah Tong is the founder of Omaby.com, a blog dedicated to providing accurate advice to mothers regarding childcare. She loves taking care of her kids and teaching them the right things. She is also enthusiastic and loves sharing her experiences to teach others about how to care for their families’ health.

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