Did you know that introducing water to babies too early can be harmful and even lead to death?
Many parents wonder when is the right time to start offering water to a baby. The information you may hear from family and friends might be conflicting. When it comes to babies, every month that passes makes the difference in terms of what is appropriate.
So, what is adequate for one baby might not be for a baby that is just one month younger! In this article, I will discuss the official recommendations about water during infancy from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Can babies drink water before 6 months old?
Babies under 6 months of age generally do not need to drink plain water. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that from birth up until 6 months old, the sole source of nutrition of babies come from human breast milk or baby formula.
Both breast milk and baby formula provide all the water that a healthy baby needs. They do not need any extra water. Giving additional water to a baby can have adverse effects that I will discuss next in this article.
Water intoxication in babies is possible
While water is a precious substance that is needed for life, too much of it can cause problems. When more water than needed is given it can cause serious health problems.
Water intoxication occurs when too much water is consumed, and when absorbed, it dilutes the sodium content of blood. This is a condition called dilutional hyponatremia. This can cause swelling of the face, low body temperature, and seizures. Severe cases can lead to death.
A baby’s kidneys are not mature enough yet to compensate by excreting the extra water. In fact, even if urine production increases to release the extra water, that water will also pull some of the baby’s sodium away into the extra urine being produced.
Other causes of water intoxication in babies
Water intoxication can also happen when baby formula is prepared with more water than indicated (more dilute than the instructions say). Breast milk and baby formula (when prepared correctly), have the ideal ratio of sodium (and other minerals) to water.
Another way that infants can get water intoxication is when they accidentally gulp water during infant swimming lessons.
Other problems caused by early introduction of water
You may recall hearing that babies feed on demand. For breastfed babies that also means that mom’s milk supply will vary according to the baby’s suction stimuli. By giving water instead of breast milk to your baby when they seem to want a drink you are decreasing the stimuli for breast milk production and you may experience an early reduction in your milk production.
It is best to trust nature in this one and when the baby hints that they want a drink, it’s probably the perfect moment to latch on for breast milk drink.
Also, remember that water on its own does not provide great nutritional value to a baby. Most nutrition will be derived from breast milk or infant formula (and some from solid foods when they start eating). So a baby that feeds on plain water will have a tummy full of nonnutritious fluid and will slow their weight gain, or worse, result in weight loss!
The safe time to introduce water to infants
So, after all that scary stuff above, you may be wondering when, then, can you safely give water to a baby. The answer is, after 6 months when you introduce solids to their diet.
Even when babies start feeding solids at 6 months of age, their main source of nutrition and hydration will be breast milk and/or baby formula. You can safely introduce water at this time when the baby is already feeding on some solids, especially when it’s a hot day, or if the baby is constipated.
How to give a baby water
For breastmilk fed babies, you can use a bottle with a natural shape nipple for ease of transition. You can also try a sippy cup with a straw meant for infants, or one with a soft spout. Many infant sippy cups come with anti-spill spouts that won’t let out water unless suction is applied.
How much water can you give to a baby?
You don’t need to give a lot of water to babies when they are 6 to 12 months old. Their main source of hydration will still be the water content of the breast milk or baby formula that they drink during the day.
After your baby is 6 months old and eating solids, you may start by offering a few sips of water. You should try to offer it after your baby has finished the main course during a feeding, that is breast milk, formula and/or solid foods. That way, they won’t spoil their appetite by filling up on plain water.
At the end of the day, your baby should have consumed up to 2 to 4 ounces of water in total, with less amount in the beginning and working your way up as they also increase their age and regular feedings.
Giving water to babies on hot days
After babies are old enough to start drinking water (after 6 months like I mentioned above), you may give extra sips of water on a hot day. If the day is extra hot and your baby seems extra thirsty, you don’t have to give large amounts of water. You should give them smaller more frequent drinks of breast milk or formula.
For babies who are not yet ready to drink water (babies under 6 months old), you should plan to give extra hydration on hot days with breast milk or baby formula. Smaller more frequent milk feeds may be needed during the hottest hours of the day. Water will not be on the menu just yet!
Keep baby away from sun exposure
Speaking of extra hot days, aside from ensuring extra hydration, other measures should be taken to ensure sun safety. Keep your baby away from direct sun exposure, and seek to stay inside during the hottest time of the day. The hottest time of the day can vary by region but may range from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
Babies old enough to use sunscreen should still be kept away from the sun, but when outside should wear sunscreen. Read my post all about the type of sunscreen that is safe for babies and children, and how to apply it. Wearing sunscreen correctly protects against the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation but does not prevent heat stroke/heat illness.
Prevent heat stroke/heat illness
Never leave children of any age unattended in a car or other enclosed, hot spaces. Leaving a car window cracked open is not enough to keep a child safe and can cause serious injury or death. Hot car deaths can occur and do occur anywhere and in any month of the year. Young children are at even higher risk Every 10 days a child passes away from vehicular heatstroke.