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What Are the Benefits of Rice Water for Babies?

By Sharon Perkins

Rice water has no particular benefit for babies on a day-to-day basis or as a substitute for breast milk or formula. Rice water has a long history of use in treating diarrhea or other gastrointestinal disorders in Southeast Asian families, but many doctors don't consider it the best treatment for gastrointestinal disorders in infants.

Ingredients

Rice water contains no ingredients except the minerals and nutrients that leach out of the rice into the water after you boil the rice. After boiling, remove the rice and serve just the water used to cook the rice to the baby.

Benefits

Rice water is a cheap and readily available choice of rehydration fluid as a replacement for the fluids lost in vomiting and diarrhea. For families who don't have access to intravenous rehydration or electrolyte solutions, rice water is better than plain water as a rehydration source. In a letter published in the July 2001 "BMJ" commenting on a review of literature conducted by British researchers on oral rehydration solution, assistant professor of physiology Ting Fei Ho of the University of Singapore states that rice water decreases stool output and is effective in mild to moderate gastroenteritis.

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Drawbacks

Rice water doesn't contain enough carbohydrate -- a source of energy needed to replace calories lost during diarrheal episodes -- protein or minerals to serve as a replacement for the mineral lost in a bout of diarrhea, pediatrician Dr. Vinay Reddy explains. In a rebuttal letter to Ho published in "BMJ" in July 2001, assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard University Christopher Duggan stated that rice water lacks the sodium and potassium necessary to replace the minerals lost.

Caveats

Rice water does not contain the nutrients necessary for optimal growth in babies. Do not give your baby rice water in lieu of formula or use it as a way to dilute formula. Do not use rice water when your baby has diarrhea or vomiting unless your doctor specifically suggests it. A baby with severe diarrhea who loses 10 percent of his body weight, or 2 pounds for a 20-pound infant, is severely dehydrated and needs medical evaluation, pediatrician and author Dr. William Sears warns.

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