Oatmeal cereal can be introduced to a baby from as young as 4-months old. BUT this depends on your baby’s developmental readiness and unique to each child. We will cover these criteria below.
Oats, a gluten-free whole grain, have been in existence as a crop in the US since the 1600s. It became hugely popular worldwide because of its vast nutritional value and numerous health benefits for humans. For this reason, many new moms are anxious to know, “when can babies eat oatmeal cereal?”
I know it’s natural for new moms to receive advice from well-meaning older family members and friends. The problem with taking advice from anyone other than your doctor or a pediatric professional is that every baby’s development, feeding schedule, and nutritional requirements are unique. What seems to work well for other babies may be detrimental to your baby’s health.
In this article, we will explore which stage of his development can a baby eat oatmeal, the nutritional benefits of oatmeal as a first food for babies, how much and how often you can feed a baby oatmeal and the overall health benefits.
When Can a Baby Eat Oatmeal?
Working moms who are breastfeeding and anxious for their baby to obtain extra nutrition during the day have often asked, “can a six-month-old eat oatmeal?”. The Mayo Clinic has a few criteria that your 6-month-old should meet before starting him on cereal or other solids.
- Your baby should support his head well,
- Has shown an interest in food (other than mom’s precious breast milk),
- And can use his facial muscles and tongue to push food from the front to the back of his mouth for swallowing.
- Pediatricians suggest that you never feed your baby while he’s lying down as this can lead to choking.
You should be able to feed your baby sitting upright and strapped in a high chair that offers support to their back.
Can a 4-month-old baby eat oatmeal?
The American Pediatric Association insists that babies from birth up to six months should only be breast or formula-fed as they receive all the nutrition their little bodies need.
However, pediatric experts agree that you can introduce your baby to oatmeal cereal from 4 months old. This will depend on your baby’s developmental readiness.
Once your baby meets the minimum criteria, as suggested above, you can slowly introduce oatmeal cereal mixed with some breast milk or infant formula.
Some babies at four months may still push food out of their mouths with their tongue. A sign that you may have to wait a bit longer until the mouth muscles and tongue coordination are more developed.
Why Feed Baby Oatmeal?
Interestingly, pediatric professionals and dieticians have stopped promoting the popular rice cereal as a first food. One of the reasons is the type of iron it contains, which is not easily absorbed by a baby's system. Instead, the experts opt for iron-fortified oatmeal cereal. It has the complete daily ratio of iron your baby needs and is easily absorbed.
A baby's iron stores obtained in the womb, become depleted at six months old. Your baby requires a daily intake of 11 mg of iron (Trusted Source). This enables their little bodies to produce sufficient red blood cells to build brain health and ensure healthy growth and development.
If your baby is allergic to oatmeal (which some are), it’s advisable to try other non-heme iron-rich foods (Trusted Source) such as quinoa, tofu or eggs. Meat, poultry, and fish contain the highest source of heme iron.
Iron-rich foods can be pureed and introduced to your baby one at a time. Once he’s comfortable with the taste and texture of his oatmeal cereal (or non-allergic alternative).
In order for the body to absorb Iron, it requires vitamin C. Check the label on the oatmeal cereal box to ascertain if it contains this and other vitamins.
The Health Benefits and Advantages of Oatmeal for Babies
Oats and oatmeal are world-renowned breakfast foods. One of the primary reasons is for their nutritional value and tremendous health benefits. This gives moms a sense of relief when their baby starts the day off having oatmeal for breakfast.
Let’s examine the health benefits of oats and oatmeal.
- Oats contain healthy carbohydrates and beta-gluten, a particular form of fiber known for its benefits for a baby's sensitive, under-developed digestive system.
- It’s dense in phytonutrients (plant chemicals) which provide the human body with medicinal and therapeutic benefits (Trusted Source).
- Oatmeal is high in fibre, iron, magnesium, and zinc, essential for immune support, smell, and taste. Some brands also add Vitamin C to aid iron absorption, vitamin D and smaller amounts of essential vitamins and minerals such as selenium and folate.
- Because oatmeal is a single grain food, it’s gentle on a baby’s digestive system without causing gas.
- The fiber in oatmeal prevents constipation, a common condition in babies when they start on solids.
- Its nutty, creamy texture and taste blend well with pureed fruits and vegetables. It helps your baby transition to new flavours and textures, while the added vitamin C aids iron absorption.
- Oatmeal is an excellent source of protein and energy while boosting your baby’s immune health.
Can a Baby Eat Oatmeal Every Day?
Yes, absolutely! Once your baby accepts the new taste and texture of oatmeal cereal, it can be your baby's breakfast.
If you’re wondering how many times a baby can eat oatmeal? The answer is twice a day (breakfast and dinner) for babies between 4 and 6 months. Lunch can consist of 1 to 4 tablespoons of pureed vegetables, protein, and fruit.
Remember, your baby is experiencing a new taste and texture for the first time after only knowing breast milk or infant formula since birth. So, prepare for some resistance, and if not, count yourself blessed!
How much oatmeal cereal should a baby eat?
Every baby is different with unique needs according to their development. Various factors may influence your baby's appetite initially. All pediatric experts (Trusted Source) advise starting with a minimum amount of cereal and increasing it gradually.
At first, even a teaspoon or two is sufficient for your baby to get used to the new taste. Never force your baby to eat due to your anxieties about healthy weight gain. And do not compare your baby with other babies, as it will be detrimental to your baby's healthy development and mental health.
Between 4 to 6 months, it will depend entirely on your new little eater how much oatmeal to feed a baby. After the initial introduction, you can increase it to one tablespoon of cereal mixed with breast milk or formula after the first 3 to 4 days. Then work your way up as your baby’s appetite increases to about four tablespoons of oatmeal twice a day.
From 6 to 8 months, your baby can have from 4 to 9 tablespoons of first foods twice a day. This amount includes oatmeal cereal and coarsely-pureed foods from the five food groups.
From 9 to 12 months, your baby can be given 1/2 cup of oatmeal cereal in the morning. Follow this up during the day with three finger meals consisting of fruit, vegetables and protein-rich foods. Always be led by your baby’s appetite.
It is important to remember that your baby's primary source of nutrition during his first twelve months remains breast milk or infant formula. This should form an essential part of your baby's daily diet and nutritional intake.
How to Get a Baby to Eat Oatmeal
At six months old, babies need fine-textured foods as they haven't learnt how to chew yet. Oatmeal should have a smooth texture and thin consistency.
- You can mix oatmeal with regular rolled oats, cooked much the same way you would for the family. Add infant formula or breast milk and blend in a baby blender to get a fine consistency. Add a little more milk as required when feeding your baby.
- Alternatively, you can also pulse rolled oats in a food processor until you achieve the desired texture. Then cover it with water and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring to prevent lumps from forming. Let it cool, and add infant formula or breast milk.
- When babies have oatmeal in the morning, add pureed strawberries and blueberries to boost vitamin C (without sugar or honey).
- While some babies are more than willing to try new tastes, you also have fussy babies who need more coaxing. So, why not add a little pureed pear or apple sauce or mashed banana for essential vitamins and extra flavour?
- Adding a little pumpkin or sunflower seed butter is yummy and packed with omega-3 fats and essential vitamins. They are also less allergic than nut butter.
- A sprinkling of cinnamon will be a winner in the taste department. The US Food and Drug Association have approved this warm spice for its medicinal value (Trusted Source).
- For busy moms who would like to know if and when their baby can have oatmeal in a bottle? The answer from every pediatric professional is a resounding, “NO”! It is best to practice feeding the oatmeal to your baby with a spoon while they sit upright. Preferably in a high chair and at the table.
- Babies quickly learn that sitting at the table is all about eating and conversation. They may be more willing to sample new foods in this atmosphere where they join in with the rest of the family.
How to know when your baby is full or hungry
Babies develop at their own unique pace, so you need to recognize their hunger cues. If you ignore the signs, you'll have a very frustrated baby who may gulp down lots of air with their oatmeal. For an enjoyable mutual experience, identify your baby's cry and body language when they communicate hunger outside of your feeding schedule.
You also need to know how much oatmeal to feed the baby and when he has had enough to eat during a feeding session. Sometimes your baby may be full quicker than the previous day. There can be varying reasons for this. But it's often due to discomfort, insufficient sleep, and an underlying ailment.
Some cues that your baby is full may include the following:
- Baby struggles to keep their eyes open; it seems they want to sleep.
- He pulls his head away when you bring the spoon close to his mouth.
- Baby purses his lips and keeps his mouth tightly shut.
- Often babies will shake their heads and move their hands when you bring the spoon to their mouths.
- Older babies may hand leftover food back to you.
- Remember the golden rule, never force your baby to eat.
The importance of balanced nutrition during the first year of a baby's life cannot be stressed enough. Once your baby is weaned and introduced to solids between 4 to 6 months, it is crucial to begin with an iron-rich cereal. Oatmeal is exceptionally high in nutritional and health benefits to aid your baby’s development.
The infant formula has already been enriched with iron. But breastfed babies' iron stores are nearly depleted once they reach the 6-month milestone. Their first foods must include a reliable source of iron to prevent anemia caused by iron deficiency (Trusted Source).
The type of iron in oatmeal cereal is fortunately easily absorbed by your baby's digestive system.
Can you save baby oatmeal?
You can refrigerate cooked, leftover oatmeal cereal for up to 3 days in a sterilized, airtight container. The thick consistency makes it ideal to be cut into oatmeal fingers for your little self-feeder when warmed. Stick pieces of banana, berries, or other thinly sliced fruit into the oatmeal fingers to make it delicious and appealing.
To reheat refrigerated oatmeal:
- place it in a sterilized microwave-safe bowl,
- add a little boiled water or milk and
- heat it covered at 30-second intervals to check the temperature while stirring it.
Stir from the centre towards the sides of the bowl so that the oatmeal is heated evenly throughout.
As for an opened box of oatmeal cereal, if kept in a cool, dry cupboard, it should last up to 6 months. However, always check the expiry date though it's not advisable to stock-pile baby food products for lengthy periods.
Does baby oatmeal have arsenic?
Rice and oatmeal cereals have, for the longest time, been the popular cereal of choice for babies between 4 and 6 months old transitioning to solids. These baby cereals are fortified with iron and are gluten-free non-allergic grains instead of wheat cereals.
However, based on a risk assessment conducted by the US Food and Drugs Association (FDA), pediatric nutritionists who favoured rice cereal have started advising parents to opt for oatmeal, multi-grain cereal, or non-rice cereals instead.
Their reasons rice cereal fell out of favour with pediatric experts
The US FDA's 2016 Risk Assessment report showed that rice, rice cereal, and rice products contain the second-highest arsenic content. Oats, whole grain, and other non-rice products have much lower levels of arsenic that are not harmful to babies.
The report raised much alarm as arsenic is a carcinogen that is so harmful that it can permanently lower a child's IQ. High levels of toxic substances and heavy metals in rice cereals and baby foods are detrimental to health and harmful to a baby's brain development. According to studies, this can lead to learning and behavioural problems later.
The highest arsenic content is in seafood and fruit juices such as grape and apple. But due to babies consuming large amounts of rice cereal over a long period, the risk of it causing harm is much higher.
What are the cons of oatmeal?
While oatmeal is gluten-free, it may get contaminated when it contacts wheat products during processing. It’s essential that you always read the label for critical information such as:
Gluten-free, certified, free from harmful toxins, sugar-free, and meets all FDA regulations.
Oats and oatmeal are not arsenic-free but contain much lower levels than rice cereal and are regarded as safe for babies by pediatric experts and the FDA.
It’s best to buy organic oats and oatmeal products to ensure they are safe from herbicides or harmful substances that plants absorb from the soil in which they are grown.