Some moms let babies drink water thinking they need it. However, it can lead to water intoxication and other problems in infants if moms are not careful.
Drinking water is one of those healthy habits that some adults work hard to adopt. The market for colorful water bottles with a variety of innovative designs is growing, and you can find water flavor packs and sweeteners in any grocery store. You can even buy your water laced with caffeine or electrolytes these days.
Why Is Water Not Good for Infants?
It may seem logical that your baby needs water just as much as you do, but that isn’t entirely true. Your breastfed baby is consuming water at each feeding. Water alone could actually harm your baby and rob him of the nutrients he needs! Lactating women are encouraged to drink a lot of water because much of that water is needed to create breast milk. There are other nutrients and antibodies in that milk, but water is still a main ingredient. Your milk keeps your baby hydrated without robbing he or she of those essential other nutrients your baby needs to thrive and grow.
The question is when you should make the transition from water in breast milk to plain water in a sippy cup. You should consider the unique needs of your baby when making this decision, but there are some general guidelines that will help you make the best decision for your little one.
Water Intoxication in Babies
Most people never hear of water intoxication, but it’s a real danger for growing babies (Keating, 2018). In the first year of life, consuming too much water can lead to serious medical issues, including seizures and brain damage. Excessive water consumption may eventually put a baby in a coma or lead to death. (Joo, 2013)
Giving your baby a small amount of water once or twice may not lead to those extreme consequences, but it’s important for all caregivers to understand that water isn’t necessary for young babies. Your baby is consuming an adequate amount of water through breast milk or formula. Adding more water to the baby’s diet could lead to less frequent breastfeeding, leading to failure to thrive or inadequate development of critical organs and bodily functions. (WHO, 2014)
When a baby is offered water in the first months of life, it’s often with good intentions. A caregiver may offer bottles of water when the baby is out in hot weather. The concern is dehydration, but breastfed babies are adequately hydrated as long as they receive routine feedings. Most bottle-fed babies also have no need for added water regardless of the weather.
Caregivers may also offer water too early as a way to calm a colicky or upset baby. It may seem like water is harmless and will fill the stomach for temporary satisfaction, but it could lead to serious health concerns for the baby.
When Can Babies Drink Water Safely?
In general, you should give your baby water at all until he or she is at least six months old (WHO, 2014.) They will not get dehydrated because they get all they needs from breast milk (or formula) even in the hottest weather.
However, as a general rule of thumb, you can assume that your breastfeeding baby doesn’t need water supplementation as long as you’re breastfeeding exclusively. Your breast milk is more than 80% water, and it will provide all the water your baby needs in the first six to 12 months of life.
Once you start introducing a sippy cup, you may begin giving your baby one or two ounces of water a day. The water shouldn’t replace breast milk. You also don’t want to give your baby unlimited cups of water. Just a small amount once or twice during the day is enough, assuming your baby is at least five or six months old.
As your baby approaches the first year of life and begins to eat solid foods, you may offer up to six ounces of water each day. Water is typically offered with meals, allowing the child to continue breastfeeding as needed between solid meals.
Once your baby is weaned from the breast, they may need a bit more water. Children still need much less water than adults. In most cases, you can allow your child to guide when they drink water and how much. If you aren’t giving the child a lot of milk or sugary drinks, they should drink a healthy amount of water to remain hydrated and healthy as they grow.
Have you heard that tap water is unsafe for babies? Most modern parents have, which is why boiled water is often used to mix formula for newborns. The concern is that tap water may contain impurities that could sabotage the health of a developing baby, including lead and nitrates. Tap water also may contain fluoride, which can lead to white lines on the teeth known as fluorosis.
Fluorosis is only a concern after long-term consumption of fluoride in the baby’s primary food source. That concern is limited to bottle-fed babies, since breastfed babies have no need to consume tap water in the early months of life. Fluoride can actually harden the teeth and improve the health of the teeth when they develop, so consuming small amounts from tap water is beneficial.
In the United States, most tap water sources contain low levels of contaminants and are considered safe for babies. It’s still a good idea to protect babies under the age of six months by boiling water before using it to mix formula. Breastfed babies are naturally protected because their milk is mixed inside the mother’s breast.
Tips for Introducing Your Baby to Water
- Don’t add water flavor packets or sugar to make water tastier. Allow your child to develop a natural taste for water so that they aren’t consuming excess sugar or artificial flavors. The preference for sweet drinks could lead to less water consumption over time and a higher risk of obesity and other health conditions.
- Don’t offer full sippy cups of water in the first year or two of life. An ounce or two is enough for an entire day once your child starts using a sippy cup and consuming solid foods.
- Don’t force a child to drink water. While it’s an important component of health for adults, it’s not as necessary for babies. You don’t want our child to think of water with negative experiences early in life.
Is Your Baby Ready for Water?
Drinking water is essential to the health of every human. As your baby grows into an active toddler, grade schooler and teenager, healthy water habits will help them stay energized and healthy. Drinking water rather than juices, sodas and other sugary drinks may also help your child maintain a healthy body weight from childhood into young adulthood.
Those healthy habits begin when your little one is a baby. While you don’t want to introduce water too early, you definitely want to stress its importance once your little one is big enough to handle the water.