Many parents wonder when their little ones can drink water along with breast milk or formula. Babies usually don’t need water for the first six months. Their bodies can get all the hydration they need from breast milk or formula. Once you’re weaning your baby off of breast milk or formula, however, you’ll need to start giving him water to replace some of those calories. Around 1 year of age, they start learning to become more independent feeders and can tolerate a greater volume of liquids for digestion. Here’s what every parent needs to know about when can babies have water.
Why is Water Unsuitable for Babies Younger than 6 Months?
Babies need to drink breast milk or formula to meet their nutritional needs. However, exclusively breastfed babies don’t need additional water until they start eating solid foods at around 6 months.
While it might seem like water would help alleviate fussiness, in reality, babies tend to fill up on water. That can actually make them less interested in taking your breast milk, leading to decreased nursing. If you’re breastfeeding, it’s essential to know that too much water can dilute the fat content of your milk, which can lead to weight loss and elevated bilirubin levels (a yellowish pigment produced by the liver) in your baby. This can cause jaundice in babies born with a high bilirubin level. In addition, too much water in your baby’s diet can lead to dehydration and abnormalities in the electrolytes, sodium and potassium.
Excess Water Leads to Water Intoxication
Water is essential for life—so it may seem ironic and counterintuitive that water intoxication can be fatal. The kidneys can only process set amounts of water at a time. If you take in more water than your kidneys can handle, the excess floods your bloodstream, diluting the fluids already there. This is especially true for very young kids with petite bodies and developing kidneys. They can easily drown in just an inch or two of water.
In infants between the ages of 4-10 months, the kidneys are still not fully developed and cannot eliminate as much water from their system as older children. This means that water intoxication can be more likely to occur in these younger children. In addition, at this stage in life, infants consume a lot of breast milk or formula, both of which are mostly made up of fluid. If you feed more H2O along with these fluids, it may lead to water intoxication.
Giving a baby water in large amounts or quickly can result in hyponatremia, with potentially dangerous brain swelling. Because infants’ brains are still developing, they are more susceptible to this complication than adults.
How Much Water Should A Baby Drink?
The amount of water babies need depends on their age, weight and activity level. A good rule of thumb is that your baby shouldn’t get less than 1 ounce of liquid for every 2 pounds of weight daily. For example, a 10-pound baby shouldn’t drink less than 2 ounces of fluid per day, a 20-pound baby shouldn’t drink less than 4 ounces and so on. A few sips throughout the day should be enough, but if you notice that your baby seems incredibly thirsty, you can offer her more for many feedings. Your pediatrician will know precisely how much fluid your baby should have based on his specific needs.
If you’re concerned about dehydration in your infant — or just want to make sure he’s getting enough fluids — here are some signs to look out for:
- He’s thirsty. A dehydrated infant will often become irritable and may cry more than usual. He may also have a dry mouth, a sunken soft spot on his head, and sunken eyes.
- His diapers aren’t wet enough. For example, if an infant isn’t urinating normally, he may be dehydrated. Likewise, if a baby’s diaper doesn’t seem wet enough for the amount of fluids he’s drinking, it could be a sign that he needs more fluids.
- He has dark urine or fewer bowel movements than usual. Dehydration can cause darker-colored urine or more irregular bowel movements than usual (because of decreased urine production).
- The skin on his face is pale rather than rosy. Pale skin is another sign of dehydration in infants and young children; it indicates that their blood pressure has dropped because they aren’t drinking enough fluids to keep up with their body’s needs (this can happen if they have diarrhea).
When Can Babies Have Water?
When your baby is around 6 months old, you can start offering small amounts of water – less than a tablespoon per feed. By this age, it will be important that liquids are seen as an alternative to breast milk or infant formula rather than a primary source of hydration.
Experienced parents know babies go through phases where they reject one thing and then another. Some might even balk at the taste and make a face, especially if they were expecting something else! Most babies will be accepting of water at this age and will have lowered their original rejection to a mild dislike. Kids will almost always accept water if you offer it plain without trying to disguise it with other fluids. If they shake their head and make a face, don’t sweat, they’ll get used to it eventually.
It’s important to know that their water intake will also increase as a child transitions from milk to water. This is because the body naturally wants more fluids when the milk intake has been significantly reduced. Around 1 year of age, your child should be receiving a routine for meals and snacks. In addition, they are now more active due to the motor skills necessary for crawling and walking. These changes in your child’s life will also inherently increase their water intake level.
The Final Word
Just like breastfeeding, water is vital for the health of a baby. More specifically, water supports the role urine plays in keeping a baby’s body working properly. With careful monitoring, your baby can have a successful water introduction with little to no risk of water intoxication. Consult your pediatrician if you have any concerns about your baby’s hydration. Keep in mind that each baby will differ in the amount of water they need, the rate at which they drink it and how long they can go without needing more fluids. However, with proper precautions, your baby’s introduction to water is likely to be safe.
Also Read: Baby’s are Never too Young to Learn to Swim