First weaning foods: Do you need to start weaning with baby rice?
It's a question I've been asked countless times in the years I've been talking about weaning - do I need to start weaning with baby rice? Is it essential to start weaning with baby rice? Does my baby need to have baby rice to learn how to eat? Should I add baby rice to my baby's bottle to help them sleep?
The answer to all the above is NO.
Baby rice is absolutely not essential. You don't need to start weaning with baby rice. It should NEVER be added to your baby's bottle, for any reason (it won't help them to sleep and it increases their risk of choking). And your baby will learn to eat just fine without it. And yet it remains a staple of any baby food aisle in the supermarket. And in my time as nutritionist for a baby food company, it continued to be an essential product to have on sale.
As with everything, how, when and what you feed your baby, is entirely up to you, so let's have a look at baby rice in more depth.
1. What is baby rice made from?
Baby rice is simply white rice that has been finely ground into a powder, also called rice flour. Because it's been ground so finely, it creates a smooth tasteless paste when mixed with milk or water, which may be seen as ideal for young babies.
Some brands may contain added vitamins and minerals, but most often you will see that they contain pure milled rice and vitamin B1 (something that is required by baby food regulations). The 6 main brands in the UK (in the table below) only include vitamin B1, as required by law.
Price per 100g
Cow & Gate
In recent years, baby rice has taken full advantage of being able to be marketed as 'gluten free' - rice is naturally gluten free, so don't see this as a benefit unless you genuinely need your baby to follow a gluten free diet. It's marketing fluff.
2. Is baby rice safe for my baby?
In a word, yes.
Rice is a grain eating across the world on a daily basis. It is a great source of carbohydrates and energy.
Of course it's more complex than that, and when searching online you'll come up with numerous articles and posts written about the risks of baby rice with regards to arsenic.
Arsenic is a substance naturally found in the environment that can make its way into our food system, through water, soil or air. Rice can absorb more arsenic than other grains from the soil, and the amount present in the environment will vary across the world, depending on the type of rice grain and quality of the soil. It is impossible to eliminate it completely from our diet. As adults this isn't an issue as the amount present is small enough for our bodies to deal with easily.
For babies, the concern comes from a build up of high levels of arsenic that their bodies can't process, and a worry that it could cause long-term health problems later on. For this reason, baby food regulations limit the amount of arsenic that is allowed to safely be present in foods - and in 2016 specific limits for baby foods were introduced which are 3 times lower than that for the general population.
Despite the articles you find online, a 2018 study looking at baby foods containing rice in the UK and Ireland, found that all foods surveyed more than met the requirements, providing safe rice-based foods.
Talk of arsenic and the possible health impacts can be scary, but you don't need to avoid rice completely. Rice can safely form part of a varied diet, but it's important to offer a variety of different grains to your little one. Things like rice cakes can be a great snack for older babies and toddlers - remember that those aimed at adults will contain higher levels of arsenic, which whilst still low, should be considered when choosing these foods.
3. How to use baby rice
Baby rice can be mixed with milk to form a smooth porridge-like food - it's incredibly bland, and will taste of whatever milk is mixed with it. If you're breastfeeding, you can add expressed breastmilk. If you are using formula-milk, you can add whichever milk your baby is currently having. This does make it ideal for babies with allergies, as you can use the specific prescribed milk in this case.
From 6 months of age it is safe to introduce a small amount of cows' milk to babies, when mixed into foods such as porridge, so you may choose to do this with baby rice as well.
If you want to start weaning with baby rice, You can make as thin or thick a texture as you feel comfortable with - this is one of the reasons people may choose to start weaning with it, if you are feeling a little nervous about giving textures for the first time. If you do choose to offer a thin smooth puree, move on quite quickly to a thicker texture, within the first 2-3 days. Babies do not need to have thin purees to learn how to eat - in fact, learning how to eat food comes from actually experiencing the thicker textures themselves.
Because the taste of baby rice is so bland, even with milk added, you might find that after a few times offering it to your baby that you want to make it more interesting. Adding pureed fruits or vegetables is a good way to do this - you can make it savoury or sweet, it's completely up to you!
4. Alternatives to starting with baby rice
One of the key reasons you might start weaning with baby rice is because of the texture and taste, so if you're looking for something smooth and fairly tasteless, a simple porridge made with finely milled oats could be a good alternative.
Ready Brek or the own-brand versions will provide a similar smooth texture but are well-fortified with other nutrients, and can be better value for money due to the size of the box - a 450g box is around £2.20, or 45p/100g, about a quarter of the price of baby rice. It will also be more usable beyond the first few days of weaning.
You can also use fine cornmeal or polenta to make a porridge - in the UK you're unlikely to find one that is fortified specifically for babies outside of a specialist supermarket, but the fine polenta that you find in the supermarket is perfectly safe for babies to have.
Of course you don't have to start weaning with baby rice or smooth textures at all, and if you feel comfortable starting with finger foods, then take a look at some ideas for some breakfast ideas here .
Ready to start weaning?
If you're getting close to starting to introduce food to your baby, baby rice or otherwise, then have a little read of these posts:
If you want some more specific advice on how to start weaning, or to get a bit more prepared for what those early weeks will look like, then you should definitely check out my First Tastes - Starting Weaning Online Workshop
First Tastes: Starting Weaning is a 2 hour online workshop designed to help you take the pressure out of introducing food to your baby, leaving you both free to enjoy eating together.