When Can I Give My Baby Pablum?

baby solid food
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If you grew up in Canada (or are a Canadian mama yourself), you’re probably familiar with something called pablum. Designed as a nutritional supplement by pediatricians at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, pablum was one of the first easy-to-prep baby cereals on the Canadian food market. 

Nowadays—and pretty much since always in the United States—we know pablum as any kind of infant cereal, or a baby’s first introduction to the world of solid foods. It’s made of processed grains, most commonly rice but also barley or oats. It’s hypoallergenic, easy to digest, and can be served as a solid food with breastmilk or formula.

Since pablum can also be thinned out in a baby’s bottle (with a larger nipple) for drinking, many parents wonder when they can start giving it to their baby. Here’s everything you need to know.

What is Pablum?

Usually, pablum is made of only one type of highly-processed grain so your baby can digest it without any GI upset or allergic reactions. 

When introducing a new solid food to your baby, wait three days before introducing any other new foods. This way, if your baby has an allergic reaction, it will be easier to determine what triggered it.

Many types of pablum also contain important vitamins and nutrients, like iron, calcium, and B vitamins. As your baby grows, you may also choose to give them pablum that contains other ingredients, like millet, quinoa, wheat flour, and rye flour.

When Can I Start Giving It to My Baby?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), most babies are ready to start solid foods between four and six months of ages. Your baby may be ready if they:

  • can hold their head up unassisted
  • show an interest in food (by reaching for food in sight or opening their mouths when a spoon is brought near)
  • don’t immediately spit food out of their mouth

That said, there’s no rush; the AAP also recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. Once your baby has doubled their birth weight, you can begin feeding them solids, but it isn’t necessary at this point.

What Are the Advantages?

You don’t have to give your baby pablum at any time, either as a first food or later down the line after other foods have been introduced. There’s nothing in single-grain cereals that your baby can’t get in breast milk, formula, or other solid foods. But there are some advantages to offering pablum as an early food to your baby.

  1. It’s convenient and easy to prepare.
  2. It typically doesn’t cause allergic reactions.
  3. It’s high in vital nutrients, like iron (which breastfed babies, in particular, may be low in).
  4. It can fill your baby up more than breast milk or formula alone, which can be helpful for older babies or babies with high caloric needs.

Older generations grew up believing that putting rice cereal in a baby’s bottle at four months old would help the baby sleep better at night, but sleep is a developmental milestone so this actually doesn’t make much of a difference. However, adding a teaspoon or two of rice cereal to a bottle may help babies who suffer from acid reflux. You should talk to your doctor if you think your baby has a medical need for rice cereal in their bottle.

Whatever first foods you choose to give your baby, it’s important to start introducing solids by six months of age. Your baby may not eat a lot or show much interest, but learning to swallow solids is an important developmental milestone. Even if most of the food is ending up all over the highchair (or your baby could care less), it’s smart to begin offering a small amount every day for practice.

What Are the Disadvantages?

There are a few reasons to be cautious about giving your baby pablum as an early solid food. If it’s added to a bottle, it could be a choking hazard for some babies, and if you add too much, it could significantly reduce the amount of formula or breast milk needed for your baby’s nutrition. 

The AAP has also advised parents to vary the types of single-grain cereal given to babies because rice contains arsenic, an element that can be dangerous in high concentrations. If possible, it’s better to offer your baby oat, barley, or multigrain cereal, limiting or diluting the amount of rice cereal you give them.

What Should I Look For When I Buy It?

Although many brands of infant cereal come in organic varieties, there’s no clear consensus on whether or not organic pablum is better than non-organic. This is a family-by-family choice. Beyond that, try to choose cereals that are nutrient-dense, such as ones containing whole grains like millet or quinoa, and fortified with vitamins and minerals, especially iron.

Depending on your baby’s needs, you may want to consider buying pablum that offers a few other features as well. 

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  1. Healthychildren.org. Starting solid foods. Updated January 16, 2018.