A rice formula can refer to one of two things: an infant formula based on rice milk rather than cow's milk, or a formula made with added rice powder to thicken it. You should not use either product unless your doctor recommends it. Neither has any benefit for a healthy newborn and may cause harm, in some cases.
Rice Milk Nutrition
Rice milk, which is made from the rice plant, does not contain the nutrients necessary for newborn growth and development. Rice milk lacks both the proteins and the fats your baby needs for brain maturation, as well as physical growth. Rice milk also contains more carbohydrates than breast milk or formula. Never give a newborn rice milk without good medical reason under a doctor's supervision.
Rice Milk and Arsenic
Rice products, which include rice milk, may contain high levels of inorganic arsenic, due to farming methods that include growing rice on fields previously contaminated with arsenic, Consumer Reports states. Rice milk contains much higher levels of arsenic than cow's milk. The United Kingdom's Food Standards Agency recommends not giving rice milk to children under the age of 4 1/2, due to the higher arsenic levels.
Rice Formula Uses
Under certain circumstances, your doctor may recommend formula that contains rice powder for your newborn. If your baby has a medical condition that causes disorganized swallowing, such as Pierre Robin syndrome, your doctor may recommend a rice-thickened formula. Babies with gastroesophageal reflux disease have an immature esophageal sphincter muscle between the stomach and esophagus, which allows food and stomach acid to move up from the stomach. Reflux causes pain, difficult feeding, poor weight gain and carries an increased risk of aspirating formula into the lungs. Thickened formulas may stay down better, but this isn't always effective in treating reflux, so don't start using thickened formula without your pediatrician's approval.
Rice Cereal Disadvantages
Start thickened cereals only if your doctor recommends them. Thickened formulas with added rice powder or rice cereal will not help your baby sleep through the night. Adding rice cereal to formulas at home changes the nutritional content of the formula; formula companies carefully balance commercial formulas to mimic breast milk as closely as possible. Babies need a certain percentage of protein, fats and carbohydrates to grow properly.