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Oatmeal: The Safer Alternative for Infants & Children Who Need Thicker Food

​​Certain diet textures are often prescribed to help infants and children with special needs eat more safely and easily. Children with dysphagia or gastroesophageal reflux, for example, may need their food to be thicker in order to swallow safely or reduce reflux.

In response to concerns over arsenic in rice, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now recommends parents of children with these conditions use oatmeal instead of rice cereal.  

Why Oatmeal?

Children with these conditions were exposed to more rice cereal (and, therefore, more arsenic) for a longer period of time. For infants, this increased exposure also comes at a time when they are developing most rapidly and may be at the greatest risk for side effects of arsenic. Therefore, a safer alternative was needed.

Oatmeal is not a member of the wheat family (i.e. oatmeal is gluten-free), so it's also safe for kids with celiac disease.

Tips for Parents:

  • Talk with your child's pediatrician or feeding specialist about the different types of oatmeal cereals on the market and how to arrive at a just-right consistency. The amount of oatmeal to add to the liquid (formula, breast milk, etc.) is dependent on your child's condition. It is important to follow the recommendations of your pediatrician or feeding therapist.
    • If you are mixing oatmeal cereal in pumped breast milk: It is best to do it right before your infant will feed. If you mix it too early, the enzymes in the breast milk will break down the oatmeal—making it ineffective.
    • If you are mixing oatmeal cereal in formula: It is most effective if done no more than 20 to 30 minutes before your infant will feed.
  • If your child is drinking it from a bottle, you may need to go up to a larger nipple size in order for the oatmeal to flow. Most feeding specialists now recommend either a faster flow nipple or commercially precut, cross-cut nipples provided by the hospital.
  • Be certain that your child is sitting in an appropriate position, as it can affect his or her ease and enjoyment with the meal.
  • Make sure you are not over feeding your child. If he or she is gaining weight rapidly, but spitting up a lot, try decreasing the amount at each feeding. Infants with reflux, for example, tend to do better with smaller, more frequent meals.
  • The commercial thickening agent, Simply Thick, should not be used in any infant. It increases the risk of developing a life-threatening condition called necrotizing enterocolitis.

Additional Information on

Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2016)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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