When we’re told water is essential for health but also that all a new baby needs is breast or formula milk, it’s no wonder parents get confused. Whether or not it’s okay for babies to drink water is a common question, so here’s what you need to know.
Do babies need water?
For the first few months, all your baby needs is milk. Breastmilk has the perfect composition to exactly fulfil your baby’s requirements. Formula milk – usually a powder mixed with cooled, boiled water – also ensures your baby is getting plenty of fluids. Because we know we need to drink as well as eat, we’re tempted to do the same for our babies – but they’re already getting enough liquid.
When can babies drink water?
The standard guidance is to wait until your baby starts eating solid food before you offer them water to drink. For most babies, this will be around six months old. Even then, they will only need a small amount.
Offer water in a sippy cup rather than a bottle. This is a new skill your baby needs to master, and it will prevent her from drinking too much water. To begin with, your baby only needs around 110ml-170ml (4-6 fluid ounces) each day – that’s roughly half a cup. At this stage, as most of her nutrients will still come from milk, you don’t want her to fill up on water and refuse her feeds.
Are all water sources safe for my baby?
You can use any type of clean water – tap or bottled – to prepare formula milk or as a drink for your baby. Neither are sterile, so should be boiled and cooled before you offer it as a drink until your baby is at least six months old. Carry on boiling water until they are a year or older if you prefer – it doesn’t matter.
If you’re buying bottled water, try to choose a brand that’s low in sodium and sulphates. Always check that the seal on the bottle is intact. If you use a water filter for your tap water, that’s fine too – but keep filtered water in the fridge as the process removes additives that help keep tap water fresh.
If you have a private water source, such as a well or spring, you should get it checked. Many are too high in nitrates to give to babies. It might be safer to use bottled water while they are young.
You should always use freshly boiled water to make up formula feeds, as hot water is needed to kill any bacteria in the powder. Cool by holding the bottle under cold running water before giving it to your baby, or store in the refrigerator until needed.
Why can’t I give my newborn water?
All the fluids your baby needs come from her milk feeds, which hydrate as well as nourish her. Giving her water could mean she doesn’t get the nutrients she needs, as she’ll drink less milk. This could, in turn, lead to weight loss as your baby won’t be getting enough calories to help her grow.
You could also put your baby at risk of chemical imbalance in her body. Drinking large amounts could lead to water intoxication, where electrolytes – such as sodium – become diluted in the bloodstream. This has been known to lead to issues such as low body temperature and seizures.
In addition, if you’re breastfeeding, giving your baby water can impact your milk supply. If she’s drinking more water and less milk, your body will produce less as a result.
Are there any benefits to my baby drinking water?
Once your baby is six months old, water will help keep her hydrated. It will also ensure her body functions properly, by transporting nutrients and oxygen around her system and helping remove waste. Water will also maintain her blood volume and keep joints and tissue healthy.
What about dehydration?
If the weather is really hot, offering your baby small sips of water will reduce the risk of dehydration. If your child is under six months old, check with your health professional first that it’s safe to do so.
If your baby produces fewer than six wet nappies in a 24-hour period, if her urine is dark yellow and if her lips look dry and cracked, then she is dehydrated. You might also notice she has no tears when crying, and both her eyes and the fontanelle on top of her head might have a sunken appearance. If you gently press her skin, it won’t spring back into shape. Your baby might also seem listless, be unusually sleepy, and have cold hands and feet.
If you notice any of these signs, and especially if your baby also has diarrhoea and/or vomiting, call your doctor or medical professional.