Baby with hands in bowl of rice cereal

If you ask for advice on the best time to start feeding your baby rice cereal, the responses may be all over the place. Some people might suggest feeding a baby rice cereal starting at 6 months, whereas others might suggest as young as only 2 or 3 months old.

But just because someone else gives their baby rice cereal early doesn’t mean that you should do the same. For advice, the best place to go is to your own pediatrician — they’re the authority on your baby’s health. In the meantime, here’s what other experts recommend.

Updated recommendations

New caution that rice cereal shouldn’t be the only solid given. So the old practice of starting only iron-fortified rice cereal at about 6 months is no longer recommended.

For the first few months of life, you’ll feed your baby exclusively with or formula. Anything other than breast milk or formula is considered a . So when deciding the right time to start your baby on rice cereal, you should follow the same guidelines for starting a baby on solid foods.

Some people argue that rice cereal is an exception to the guidelines — perhaps because of the ability of rice cereal to dissolve in (and “thicken”) breast milk or formula when added in small quantities.

Yet, rice cereal is a solid food. Babies aren’t ready for solid foods until they’re .

Since every baby is different, it’s important to look for signs that your baby is actually ready to start eating rice cereal before serving it.

You should hold off feeding a baby solid food until they have control of their neck and head. Your little one will need to be upright while eating, so they should be able to sit in a highchair.

Most importantly, don’t give a baby rice cereal until they have the oral skills to move solid food from the front of their mouth to the back. This skill doesn’t typically develop until at least 4 months old. Until then, your baby’s tongue will push out any food that enters their mouth.

Another telltale sign that your baby may be ready for solid food is when they express an interest in your food. If you’re eating in their presence, they might try to grab your food — or lean in toward food with their open mouth (have your camera ready!).

For the most part, you shouldn’t give a baby rice cereal before the recommended guidelines. Even though the — that automatic reflex that causes a baby’s tongue to push food forward — can provide some protection before they’re ready, offering solid food too early can still pose a choking or aspiration risk.

Giving a baby rice cereal — or other solid foods — too early may also a baby’s risk of having obesity.

But when they’re ready, rice cereal can be a great starter food, among others.

After several months of only consuming breast milk or formula, some babies have difficulty adjusting to solid foods.

To start the introduction process, mix 1 to 2 tablespoons of iron-fortified rice cereal with 4 to 6 tablespoons of formula, breast milk, or water. Some people mix rice cereal with fruit juice, too. But this isn’t recommended because fruit juice doesn’t offer health benefits and is very high in sugar.

Spoon feed an iron-fortified rice cereal to your baby. (It’s important that babies get enough iron once they start solid foods.) But don’t be surprised if it takes a couple of feedings for your baby to get the hang of eating this way. You can nurse or bottle feed first, and then end feedings with rice cereal.

Doctors used to recommend rice cereal as a “first food.” But now we know that age-appropriate foods can be introduced in any order, and rice cereal shouldn’t be the only solid given for very long due to arsenic exposure, according to the .

You can introduce other jar or puréed foods like fruits and vegetables before or after you introduce rice cereal. And do include other iron-fortified, single-grain cereals besides rice. Variety is the spice of life — even for baby!

When introducing new solid foods to your baby, do so one at a time. This way, you can detect any potential or sensitivities early. For example, after you feed your baby peas for the first time, wait 3 to 5 days before introducing carrots.

You might have heard of adding rice cereal to a bottle to thicken breast milk or formula. This, however, isn’t recommended unless your pediatrician says it’s OK.

If your baby has episodes of , your doctor might advise this method to thicken the milk and try to prevent regurgitation. But this is rare.

Starting a baby on solid food is a major milestone, but you shouldn’t introduce rice cereal too early. Doing so poses a few different risks. So wait until your baby is about 6 months, and look specifically for signs that they’re ready for solids.

When in doubt, talk it out — with your pediatrician. They’re a goldmine of information, and best of all, they know your baby’s health better than anyone else, including Dr. Google.