Rice cereal makes babies sleep
This one hurts. I know sleep deprivation and the desire to get a good night's sleep very well. But this one just isn't true.
Sleep patterns are developmental phenomenon, they don't have much to do with hunger patterns. Kids wake up hungry, but they don't wake up because they are hungry.
Cereals started as an important part of a child's diet back when the infant formula companies couldn't get an absorbable form of iron into the formula. They then fortified rice cereal with iron and introduced the rice cereal early into the diet as a way to make sure the kids got the iron. Chances are pretty good that the eventual increase in sleeping at night that happens around six to eight weeks of age coincided with the introduction of the cereal, but not because of it.
Now, all the infant formulas are fortified with iron and of course, breastmilk has an abundant and easily absorbable supply of iron in it, so we really don't need an extra source. If you take away the iron in the cereals, it's just starch.
And if you buy this idea that rice cereal "sits" in the stomach, then we have to talk about that too. Nothing "sits" in the stomach (even when kids eat pennies and stuff, that stuff passes). It's a metabolically active organ always working to digest its contents.
And at least one study has recently showed that early introduction of rice cereal (prior to 4 months of age) is a risk factor for the development of diabetes.
Different types of food take longer to digest. Starch, which is what rice cereal is, is really easily digested. Starches are used as quick sources of energy. If we stayed asleep for however long our bellies are full (which I don't believe either or we would never sleep for 6-8 hours a night) then starch would be a poor choice. We would need to load our kids up with a Big Mac or something to get them to sleep longer since fat is the slowest food type to be digested.
That's a long explanation to say that I don't really think the cereals are necessary-- they aren't a good source of nutrition and they don't make kids sleep and may, with the new info on the link to diabetes, be actually be harmful. The AAP says 6 months without solids...we are learning that the rush to solids foods is NOT a good idea.
For more info on the appropriate introduction of solid food, click here.
More about sleep issues here.