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 bit red. And the downy hair on his head is beginning 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 giving babies water at this age is not good. What’s the truth? When can babies have water? And why?
When Can Babies Drink Water?
While there may not be many solid answers regarding the hard parenting questions, this question is straightforward and has good reasoning. Babies do not need additional water in the first months of life, even in very hot weather.1 Breastmilk is 88% water; formula is also composed of mostly water. As long as a baby is free to nurse or bottlefeed as needed, they will receive 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 after they start eating solids. While this is typically around 4-6 months of age, doctors agree that you should not give water to a baby until they are 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. They still don’t need it, but they can be given between one to four ounces of water a day over the age of 6 months. Give no more than four ounces per 24 hours from 6-12 months of age unless instructed by your child’s pediatrician. 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 relatively resilient and tough little creatures. But certain things are not suitable 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 created to give your baby the number of nutrients he needs for optimal health and growth. If you give your baby too much water, there is concern that he will fill up on it instead of taking in the amount of breastmilk or formula he needs. This could lead to diluting the nutrients your baby needs to thrive, which can slow his weight gain and growth.
Inhibits breastfeeding. Offering your baby water may reduce the amount of time your baby will want to nurse, which could, 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 may be due to a lack of knowledge of the risks of giving babies water.2 Too much water can affect the electrolyte balance in their bodies, 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 will get the proper amount of hydration from your breastmilk or formula if they are being fed on demand. However, if you are worried about dehydration, keep a lookout for these symptoms:
- less than four wet diapers in 24 hours
- dark yellow urine
- dry, 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, or for more urgent concerns have them evaluated right away by their healthcare professional. Don’t be afraid to bring your baby to the doctor if you feel uneasy about any 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 an open cup or straw cup with a little water to practice drinking. Slowly increase his water intake as time goes on, and avoid giving your baby juice (the sugar can lead to diarrhea!). As always, do your proper research before making any big parenting decision, and consult trusted healthcare providers when you have questions.