It’s a hot day. You’ve taken your toddler to a shaded park to get some energy out before you have to start dinner. Your four-month-old is lounging contentedly in his stroller. You notice his cheeks are a little red. And the downy hair on his head is starting to get moist with sweat. Taking yet another swig from your water bottle, you start to worry that your baby will need some water on this hot day. But you’ve heard that it’s not good to give babies water. What’s the truth? When can you give your baby water? And why?
When Can You Give Your Baby Water?
While there may not be many solid answers regarding the hard questions of parenting, this question is pretty straight-forward and has good reasoning behind it. For the first several months of life, babies do not need additional water, even in very hot weather. Breastmilk is 88% water; formula is also composed of mostly water. As long as a baby is free to nurse as needed, he or she will receive exactly what they need to stay hydrated and healthy.
When can babies drink water?
Most experts advise that you should not give your baby water until he or she starts eating solids. This is typically around 4-6 months old. However, doctors agree that water should not be given until at least 6 months old.
How much water can you give your baby?
Once your baby has hit their half-birthday mark, you can begin giving small amounts of water a few times a week. They still don’t need it, but it can be given an ounce or two a day over the age of 6 months. Give no more than 2 ounces per 24 hours from 6-12 months of age. The amount can increase (and should to prevent constipation) after 1 year of age.
What are the risks of giving my baby water before 6 months old?
Babies are rather resilient and tough little creatures. But certain things are not good for their delicate systems. Giving your baby water before their body is ready for it can cause certain problems:
Lack of nutrients. Breastmilk and formula are perfectly created to give your baby the amount of nutrients he needs for optimal health and growth. If you give your baby water, he will fill up on it instead of taking in the amount of breastmilk or formula he needs. This could lead to a dilution of the nutrients your baby needs to thrive, which in turn can slow his weight gain and growth.
Inhibits breastfeeding. Offering your baby water will reduce the amount of time your baby will want to nurse, which will, in turn, result in lower milk production. This will inhibit your ability to provide your baby with all the nutrients and hydration he needs and can start a frustrating cycle of lower milk supply.
Water intoxication. Water intoxication in infants has seen a resurgence in the last few years due to a lack of knowledge on the risks of giving babies water. It can cause seizures and severely affect your child’s ability to process chemicals and hormones properly.
What about dehydration?
Again, even on very hot days, your baby should be getting the proper amount of hydration from your breastmilk or formula if he is being fed on demand. However, if you are worried about dehydration, keep a lookout for these symptoms:
- less than 6 wet diapers in 24 hours
- dark yellow urine
- cracked lips
- sunken fontenelle (soft spot)
- tearless crying
- dry skin that doesn’t “bounce back”
- extreme fussiness
- unusual sleepiness
- cold hands and feet
If your baby has vomiting or diarrhea, it can also lead to dehydration. If your baby shows these symptoms, call your pediatrician for tips on keeping your little one hydrated. And don’t be afraid to bring your baby to the doctor if you feel uneasy about any of the symptoms he may be showing!
The bottom line: wait a while and take it easy!
Once your baby starts eating solids regularly around 6 months old, give him his first sippy cup with a tiny bit of water and rest easy. Slowly increase his water intake as time goes on, and avoid giving your baby juice (the sugar can lead to diarrhea!). As always, be sure to do your proper research before making any big parenting decision, and consult trusted healthcare providers when you have questions.