A couple of years ago, when Consumer Reports uncovered a "worrisome" level of the toxin arsenic in various rice products (including rice baby cereal), you could almost hear the collective gasp among parents. After all, for years, pediatricians had been recommending the bland but soft cereal as a great first food. But as we soon found out, rice cereal wasn't the only acceptable thing for infants to start out with. Thanks to advice from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), many of us started exposing our babies to everything from borscht to banana with quinoa.
But not every child has been able to quit rice cereal cold turkey. Babies with gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) or dysphagia in particular need their food to be thicker in order to swallow safely, so many parents have continued to reach for that reliable thickening agent, rice cereal. Considering children with these conditions are exposed to more rice cereal (and, therefore, more arsenic) for a longer period of time, a safer alternative was needed.
On Monday, the FDA and AAP offered one: oatmeal. The newly anointed "preferred thickener" will give baby's food the heft it needs to go down -- without the toxic carcinogens. And because it's not a member of the wheat family, it's safe for kids with celiac disease -- though for added security, doctors suggest sticking with oatmeal products labeled as gluten-free. Experts admit that you'll probably need to play around with different oatmeals to arrive at a just-right consistency, and if your infant is drinking it from a bottle, you may need to try different nipples, too. "Consultation with feeding specialists who can provide specialized assessment often is needed," according to the AAP.
Far from final, the recommendation will continue to be fine-tuned by the FDA and AAP as more research is done. Still, it's comforting to know that there's an approved, safer alternative for babies who need thicker food, and a little extra peace of mind for us parents as we sit down for feeding time.
Tell us: What foods did you offer first to your baby?
Image of mom feeding baby courtesy of Shutterstock