When is it safe to start introducing your baby to water? And how much water do babies and toddlers need? Today, we’ll break down what parents need to know about giving babies water.
Water is one of the best drinks for children. It’s free from added sugar, has zero calories, and it’s the purest way to maintain hydration. It maintains bone, tooth and joint health, improves memory and concentration, and helps with blood circulation. And in addition to all of these benefits, water is much less expensive than unhealthy sugary juices and drinks.
But when is it safe to start introducing your baby to water? And how much water do babies and toddlers need? Today, we’ll break down what parents need to know about giving babies water.
Before 6 months of age, don’t give baby water
Babies don’t need to drink any water before 6 months of age. This is because they get all of the hydration and nutrients they need from breastmilk or formula. So, water is not recommended for babies in their first 6 months of life.
In fact, giving water to a baby under 6 months of age can sometimes lead to diarrhea if baby drinks too much water.
Giving your baby too much water too soon also puts them at risk for water intoxication. Water intoxication happens when the levels of sodium (and other electrolytes) in a baby’s body become diluted. This can be dangerous. It could lead to seizures, or even a coma, and could damage the brain.
And if your baby is breastfeeding, giving them water could lead them to breastfeed less. As frequent breastfeeding is key to maintaining milk supply, this decrease in breastfeeding could lead to a decrease in supply.
Most crucially, breastmilk or formula provides all the key nutrients a baby needs in their first 6 months of life. Offering water could lead them to miss out on key nutrients, and negatively affect their growth and development.
Even on hot days, a baby doesn’t need water under 6 months of age --- breastmilk or formula is still the best option for keeping baby hydrated.
“For healthy infants with adequate intake of human milk or infant formula, supplemental water is typically not needed in the first 6 months.” --- U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines
What about water mixed with powdered formula?
It’s perfectly fine to mix powdered baby formula with water. However, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions exactly, to ensure that you’ve added the right amount of water.
If you dilute infant formula too much (add too much water), this reduces the nutrients your baby receives from the formula, and may negatively affect their development. It may also lead to an electrolyte imbalance.
Giving water to babies: Introduce small amounts of water starting at 6 months of age
Around 6 months of age, once babies start to eat solids, they can start to drink water.
Between 6 and 12 months of age, babies only need small amounts of water, as they’re still receiving some hydration from breastmilk or formula. But introducing water when solids are introduced is still a good idea, as baby’s hydration needs do increase once they start solids.
Nurse Dani of Intermountain Moms gives more info on when it’s okay to give your baby water.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend offering your little one 4-8 ounces of plain drinking water per day (a little more than half a cup). That’s all babies need daily to stay hydrated in their first year.
Remember that when you’re starting to give your baby solids, your baby’s primary nutrition source (and hydration source) should still be breastmilk or formula.
“Small amounts (up to 4 to 8 ounces per day) of plain, fluoridated drinking water can be given to infants [ages 6+ months] with the introduction of complementary foods.” --- USDA 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines
How to give your baby water?
To introduce your little one to water, offer small amounts of water in a sippy cup. Don’t push your little one to drink the water if they don’t want it.
Although a sippy cup is the better option because it naturally slows down water intake, you can also give water from a baby bottle, if that’s the only way baby will take it. Just be sure to strictly limit baby’s water intake to 4-8 ounces daily.
Be careful if you use a bottle to give water --- baby could drink too much water from it if you aren’t vigilant. But they can’t usually drink too much water if you opt for the sippy cup.
Only give plain drinking water. Stay away from flavored “waters” that contain added sugar.
Slowly introducing your baby to water when they start solids will help them get used to the “plain” taste, and help form the healthy habit of choosing water as a drink later in life.
As baby starts to eat larger amounts of solid food (and drinks less breastmilk or formula), they will need more water for their hydration needs.
Do I need to boil tap water for baby?
There’s no need to boil tap water for a baby unless the water quality in your area is questionable or unsafe.
If you aren’t sure of the quality of your tap water, you can either give baby bottled water or boil the tap water. If you choose to boil, bring cold tap water to a boil for around one minute. Then, let the water cool for at least half an hour, so you know it’s a safe temperature for baby.
What If Baby Is Dehydrated?
It’s important to be alert for the signs of dehydration in babies. A fever, vomiting, and other conditions can sometimes increase your baby’s risk for dehydration.
Signs of dehydration may include:
- Fewer wet diapers than normal (6-8 wet diapers per day is the average for this age)
- Crying without tears
- Excessive fussiness
- Excessive sleepiness or fatigue
- A sunken soft spot (“fontanelle”) on baby’s head
- Cracked or dry lips
- Dark urine
- Sunken-looking eyes
- Dry skin that doesn’t “bounce back” when you gently press it
However, if you’ve noticed that your baby (under 1 year of age) seems dehydrated, giving them water isn’t the best choice. Rather, giving breastmilk or formula is the best way to combat dehydration in babies.
If you suspect that baby is dehydrated, or think baby isn’t getting enough fluids, you should also call your pediatrician immediately.
Giving water to toddlers: Prioritize water as one of the best drinks
Once your little one turns 1 and transitions to a diet of all or mostly solids, water should be one of their primary drinks. After all, the USDA advises that babies under 2 should not consume any foods or beverages that contain added sugar --- and many fruit juices and drinks contain hidden sugars.
How much water should your toddler drink daily? The AAP advises that 1-3 year olds should drink “approximately 4 cups of [healthy] beverages per day, including water or milk.”
Between the ages of 1 and 2, the best beverages for your little one are plain water and whole unflavored cow’s milk.
100% fruit juice (screened carefully to avoid added sugar) can also be given in very small amounts. But your child shouldn't have more than 4 oz. of fruit juice per day, and most of the fruit your little one consumes should be whole fruit.
It’s best to stick to mostly water and cow’s milk at this age, and give very little juice (if any). Giving enough water or milk will eliminate the need for juice. Cow’s milk as a beverage, and 100% fruit juices, should only be given after your child’s first birthday.
Also, be sure to model choosing water as your own drink of choice. This will encourage your toddlers to drink water and maintain the healthy habit for years to come.
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