We always hear about the importance of staying well hydrated throughout the day. We’re told to drink enough water when pregnant, when ill, when exercising, and even in normal circumstances when nothing too out of the ordinary is going on.
But what about our little ones? Can babies drink water? Do they really need to be doing so in the first place? If so, when can they start? And how much should they be drinking? What are the guidelines set forth by experts in the field for parents to follow?
Regardless of whether or not it seems logical to give your little one some much needed H20 at the time, read the following important information before you go ahead and do so.
When Can Babies Drink Water?
Babies can start drinking water as soon as they transition into eating solids, which – in most cases – means somewhere around 6 months of age.
Unlike adults, babies don’t really need to be drinking water. They already get all the hydration they need from drinking either breast milk or formula milk.
Even if the weather is exceptionally hot where you’re at at the time, you shouldn’t try to quench your baby’s thirst by having them drink water if they’re less than 6 months old – breast milk or formula milk should take care of that just fine.
After your baby reaches the 6 months of age mark, experts say it’s fine to gradually begin quenching their thirst by having them drink water, with them being able to handle more of it as they grow older.
The following is a link from the World Health Organization that talks about how infants don’t need water until after the age of 6 months of age mark.
Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “The primary reason infants under the age of 6 months should not have water is because their kidneys are not yet mature enough to handle it.
This is a very important point for parents to understand. In practice, I have many parents who want to give water to their 3 month old or experience pressure from grandparents to give their babies water.
I strongly encourage them to wait until their child turns 6 months old.
Here is an article from St. Louis Children’s Hospital that discusses the dangers of giving younger infants water: https://www.stlouischildrens.org/health-resources/pulse/water-intoxication-infants
How Much Water Can Babies Drink?
Assuming they reach a suitable age to start drinking water, should you allow your baby to freely drink as much as they feel like at the time, or should you keep things limited instead?
During this stage of your baby’s life when you’re gradually switching to feeding them more solids and less breast milk/formula milk, your goal shouldn’t be to fill their bellies with water.
This is very similar to something we discussed in another article, that giving juice to babies younger than 6 months of age is also a bad idea.
Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “I usually tell parents, “Juice can be a treat, but is not a dietary requirement. It is better to give fruits and vegetables instead of juice.”
Instead, you should strive to take advantage of this transitional period and slowly get them used to everything that has to do with drinking water – how it tastes, how it feels, etc ..
The earlier on you get them used to drinking water, the easier it will be to keep this healthy habit up when they’re older. The key here, however, is to keep things to a bare minimum and gradually increase it as they grow older.
When just starting to introduce a baby around the age of 6 months to drinking water, experts believe that there’s really no reason for them to be drinking more than 2 ounces (around 60 ml) of water in a period of 24 hours.
So, a few sips here and there throughout the day just to get them used to this will do fine.
As they grow older and gradually transition into eating more and more solid foods, they’ll be taking in less and less breast milk (or formula milk) in the meantime and can afford to take in more water – as long as they’re getting in all the solids they need, of course.
You should still avoid having your baby drink too much water that ends up filling their tummy and having them feel like they have no room for the food they should be eating, which contributes to malnutrition.
As soon as a baby celebrates their first birthday (i.e is more than 12 months old) and has well transitioned into eating solids, it’s alright for you to let them drink water freely – as much as they want of it, whenever they want to.
At this stage in their life, your little one will have started eating different meals at different times (i.e breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks in between), and will be doing what a toddler does best – being physically active around the house, always on the move and wreaking havoc on everything in sight.
So, they’ll need the water intake to help their bodies digest the solids they’re eating and make up for any water lost from all the physical activity they get in a day’s time.
Otherwise, you’ll have a constipated baby in your hands, and that’s not fun for anyone – not you nor them!
Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “I encourage more water intake among my patients during warmer weather months.
Parents often don’t realize that infants can easily become dehydrated, especially when spending extended periods outdoors.”
How Should My Baby Drink Water?
It’s really up to you and, more importantly, what your baby feels more comfortable with and responds better to.
Some babies respond best to drinking water from a sippy cup, others from their own bottle because they haven’t quite transitioned to mastering drinking from a sippy cup yet, and others respond best to skipping the sippy cup altogether and drinking from a regular cup instead.
You may need to try a few different methods at first to get a feel for what your baby prefers best, so give it some time and patience – it will all pay off sooner than later.
Keep in mind that when your baby is just starting to learn how to drink water from a cup, things can easily – and most often do – get messy, so a non-spill valve is bound to come in very handy.
Generally speaking though, if your little one is still around 6 months of age, experts recommend that you begin introducing them to drinking water from a cup designed with handles and a spout.
Babies closer to the 12 months of age mark, on the other hand, should start getting used to drinking water from regular cups. This is especially true if they’ve already mastered drinking water from cups with spouts.
Why Is Excessive Water Harmful To Babies?
When you give a baby that’s being either breastfed or bottle fed some water on its own to drink, you’re helping them feel fuller in a way they shouldn’t really be.
One of the main reasons babies cry is when they’re hungry, in an attempt to get their parents to feed them.
Having a baby drink water on its own will contribute to making them feel full, which means they’ll end up having less breast milk or formula milk than they should be having.
This often results in developmental problems for babies, and struggling to gain the necessary weight they should be gaining during this phase.
2) Tummy Ache
I’m sure you don’t look forward to dealing with a crying baby, right? If so, avoid having them drink water when they’re not supposed to so they don’t get a tummy ache as a result.
3) Life Threatening
In some of the more extreme cases where babies younger than 6 months of age drink much more water than they safely can, this could be life-threatening and is certainly not to be taken lightly.
Water intoxication could take place, and a baby could experience seizures, go into a coma, or possibly even die.
4) Nursing Problems
Your baby’s disinterest in breastfeeding is dangerous because it puts them at risk of unwanted weight loss (or not enough weight gain), but it also causes all sorts of nursing problems and difficulties for you – the mom – too.
When your baby’s feeling full from all the water they drank and isn’t keeping up with their nursing schedule because of that, this affects your milk supply and slows it down.
Do Breastfed Babies Need To Drink Water?
If you’re exclusively breastfeeding your baby and the feeding sessions are going well without any problems, you have absolutely nothing to worry about as far as adequate water intake is concerned.
After all, 88% of breast milk is made of water, so exclusively breastfed babies usually get all the nutrients and fluids their bodies need from their mother’s liquid gold.
As long as your baby is nursing effectively, you also don’t need to worry about your baby needing more water if the weather is exceptionally hot at the time. You’ll know your baby is nursing properly if they’re gaining weight as they should be and are producing enough wet diapers throughout the day.
What About Water And My Baby’s Formula?
You might be asking yourself “but wait a second here, wouldn’t my baby be in danger because I’m mixing water with formula milk to prepare their bottles?”.
As long as you’re following the instructions on the formula milk package and you’re not using more than the recommended amount of water to mix the milk with, you have absolutely nothing to worry about as far as excess water intake goes.
Trouble only happens when you don’t pay attention to what’s written on the label and add as much water to your baby’s formula bottle as you wish, risking water intoxication as a result and causing your baby to end up getting fewer nutrients from their formula milk.
The AAP has a great article on proper preparation of infant formula (from the powdered version or concentrate), and also makes comments on water safety.
What If My Baby’s Dehydrated?
In cases of dehydration in babies, you should never attempt to solve this on your own by having them drink lots of water and thinking this will properly re-hydrate them.
A dehydrated baby should be checked on by a doctor so they first determine why dehydration happened and whether any medical condition caused it.
The doctor will then recommend the best and safest course of treatment for re-hydration purposes, most often in the form of electrolyte drinks specifically designed for babies to recoup lost electrolytes.
As a matter of fact, giving a young and growing baby too much water to drink in an attempt to get them re-hydrated is counter-effective and makes them even more de-hydrated than they already are.
Kidneys of young and growing babies haven’t fully developed yet to be able to handle such levels of water intake, and end up flushing high levels of sodium (as well as excess water) outside the body. This makes dehydration worse off than it already is, due to electrolyte loss.
Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “I think it is important to include information on exactly what dehydration looks like in an infant. The AAP has a link that details this.
Giving parents this information may encourage them to seek medical attention sooner rather than later.
Here is an article regarding electrolyte replacement vs breastfeeding during hydration, also from the AAP:
What If My Baby Has A Fever?
If your baby has a fever, don’t attempt to self diagnose what’s going on and give them excessive amounts of water to drink and medication to take – take your baby to the emergency room instead or talk to your doctor about it and leave the rest up to them.
Tap Or Filtered Water?
You can give your baby either tap or filtered water to drink, either is fine – as long as you’re sure your tap water is safe and not contaminated, of course.
Avoid Empty Calories
Just because your baby’s old enough to safely drink water doesn’t mean you’re cleared to give them any beverage their heart desires.
Unless it’s pure water – and ONLY water – be weary of everything that goes in to their body and do your research beforehand.
Just to talk about a few examples, soda is completely off limits (regardless of whether it’s diet soda or not), fruit juices should also be avoided because of the highly concentrated levels of sugar they contain, and caffeinated tea is also not something you’ll want them to put in their bodies.
An Important Note About Fluoride
Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “I also think it is important to comment on infant waters that contain fluoride.
Except for in New Jersey and Oregon, the municipal water in all other states contains fluoride. Therefore, giving additional water with fluoride is unnecessary, unless well water is the source.
Also, in NJ and OR, most physicians prescribe an age appropriate dose of a vitamin with fluoride to give as a daily supplement.
Giving additional fluoride via an infant water can result in a higher than desired amount of ingested fluoride, which could lead to teeth staining.
Prior to 6 months old, infants do not need fluoride supplementation. Here is an article with more info on this.