The Department of Health (DOH) is reminding mothers not to give their babies rice water—also known as “am”—as a substitute for breast milk or formula.
Health Assistant Secretary Paulyn Ubial said rice water was not entirely bad but it should only be given as a vitamin B supplement, particularly after diarrheal episodes.
She noted that giving “am” to babies as their main source of food was still a rampant practice in the rural areas.
“Rice water cannot replace breast milk or even formula because it contains only vitamin B. It has no proteins, carbohydrates and other vitamins and minerals that infants need for their growth and development,” Ubial said in an interview with reporters.
Rice water is the starch that breaks off to the surface when rice is boiled. It is a cheap rehydration fluid after a bout of diarrhea, vomiting or gastroenteritis when electrolyte solutions are unavailable.
Ubial said the misconception about rice water stemmed from its promotion as a vitamin B supplement in the 1950s when vitamin B1 or thiamine deficiency was rampant among babies.
“Since supplements were not that popular then, doctors advised ‘am’ and the notion that it was good for babies was passed on to the next generations… but they didn’t know that the context of such advice was only after diarrheal episodes,” said the health official.
Ubial said the best food for infants was still breast milk and that mothers should strive to exclusively breastfeed at least for six months to ensure that their babies are healthy.
The World Health Organization recommends mothers to exclusively breastfeed their infants for the first six months to achieve optimal growth, development and health, citing studies showing that breast milk reduces infant mortality due to malnutrition and common childhood illnesses such as diarrhea and pneumonia.
“We promote breastfeeding and nothing more. After six months, mothers should give their babies table food and continue breastfeeding,” said Ubial.