Water is the number one liquid we think of if we’re parched with thirst and desperately need hydration. It might seem very weird to not be providing babies with water. But don’t worry, there is plenty of hydration in what babies are allowed to drink during their first few months on earth. In a short while, they can start enjoying those refreshing sips of water.
At first, babies should only take in liquid foods. They contain enough water in their composition so that your baby won’t need an extra supply:
- Breast milk contains 88% water, so it is basically water with extra necessary nutrients.
- Formula requires different amounts of water, depending on the amounts of the other soluble ingredients.
There are three types of formula, all of which require different ways of preparation. Diluting formula with additional water may reduce the number of calories per serving, which is not ideal as they are necessary for the baby to thrive. The three types of formula are:
- Powder, which is measured per scoop. Each scoop is soluble in 2 ounces of water, so the bottle of formula to be taken in per day is measured based on every 2 ounces of water.
- Liquid concentrate, which is measured in ounces, also based on the amount of water. There is one ounce of liquid concentrate and one ounce of water in a 2-ounce bottle, which means this formula contains 50% water.
- Ready-to-Feed, for which no additional preparation is required. It already comes with the necessary amount of water that makes it suitable and healthy for the baby.
- Introducing Supplemental Water in Your Baby’s Feeding Habits
- Here Comes Water
- The Risks of Giving Water to a Baby
- Benefits of Giving Water to a Baby
- Sippy Cup
- Water During Hot Weather
- Signs of Dehydration
- Preventing Dehydration
- Encouraging Hydration
- Final Thoughts
Introducing Supplemental Water in Your Baby’s Feeding Habits
So when should babies begin drinking water, aside from the two liquid foods they have to start out with?
The short answer is when they 6 months old. There are certain ways of introducing water intake into your baby’s feeding habits, as well as different stages when the quantities increase.
From ages 0 to 6 months, you should not provide any supplemental water to your baby. There is sufficient water in formula and breast milk to keep the baby healthy and hydrated.
From ages 6 to 12 months, your baby may imbibe between 2 and 4 ounces of supplemental water per day. This usually means half a cup. In this interval, babies may also be introduced to solids, which makes it okay for them to have water as a supplement. If the baby is breastfed, water may still not be necessary. If they are formula-fed, some extra water might be helpful, since formula has less water in its composition than breastmilk.
After the age of one year and up to the age of three, the recommended amount of supplemental water is between 30 and 40 ounces. This may seem like a lot, especially if the baby is still breastfed. You should consult your pediatrician about when it is okay to give water to your baby, based on their behavior and their nutrition patterns.
Here Comes Water
Like with anything new, you have to start slowly. Observe your baby’s reaction when you try to give him a bottle cap filled with water. If that goes smoothly, move on to a slightly bigger water receptacle. It’s best if the water is lukewarm. Avoid hot or too cold water as they might cause your baby distress. The best thing to do is gently boil the water, then wait for it to cool before giving it to your baby.
Water should not be a replacement for a meal. If a baby feels full after a few drinks of water, they won’t be able to also imbibe breast milk or formula, so they will be bereft of the necessary calories and nutrients for the day.
Breastfeeding should still be the number one source of nutrition for the baby up until the age of 1 year. There are certain risks babies can face if they are exposed to too much water or glucose water. This is because tap water contains impurities that, although harmless to adults, can be too much for an infant’s immune system to cope with.
The Risks of Giving Water to a Baby
The dangers in providing a newborn with water are rare, but should still be taken into account. It’s important to stress that although a disastrous outcome from giving your baby water is unlikely, it nevertheless is still a possibility. The main risks are dehydration, malnutrition, and intoxication.
You may think that the sole purpose of giving your baby water is to hydrate him. But for a newborn, water doesn’t have the effect it has on a plant. The baby’s kidneys are still underdeveloped, so they cannot process additional water. This can cause a release of water and sodium in their urine, which leads to dehydration and reduced brain activity.
Substituting breastmilk or formula with water can perhaps hydrate babies, but it does not provide them with the rest of the much-needed nutrients they require. Their bellies are filled up with the same volume of liquid they can take, but it lacks all the important and nourishing ingredients. This can lead to them not gaining weight properly, which in turn leads to malnourishment and has an impact on the baby’s health.
It seems strange to say, but excessive water can even be toxic for a baby who is used to breastmilk or formula. This is because if the baby’s little body senses an imbalance of electrolytes (such as sodium), it can react in various ways. Some of these include being irritable, unresponsive, having low body temperatures, and can even cause brain swelling and seizures.
4. Low Milk Supply
The more a baby fills up on water, the less he will feel the need to breastfeed. This means he won’t get the nutrients, but will also cause his mother’s body to produce less milk, which can be detrimental as they continue to breastfeed.
Benefits of Giving Water to a Baby
Of course, from 6 months up, water isn’t all bad for a baby. Just like adults, this supplemental source of hydration has some much-needed benefits:
- Water helps with oxygen and nutrient transportation to the body’s cells. Through this transportation, waste is removed from the blood.
- The joints and tissues need to stay lubricated, and only water can ensure that they do.
- Water also helps maintain a steady blood volume.
- Since fruit juice is not encouraged by pediatricians until the baby has at least reached the age of one year, water serves as a substitute for that need.
Another important skill is being developed as babies approach the age of one year. Because they have been practicing their hand-eye coordination, they should be able to drink out of a sippy cup on their own. This can happen even as early as 6 or 7 months of age. This is the first activity they learn to do independently, so you should start them off slowly:
- An ideal starter sippy cup should have handles and a straw or a soft spout.
- At first, babies splutter or cough out the liquid. So it is important to hold your baby upright, to prevent choking or any unpleasant moments.
- If the baby looks confused about how to go at it at first, demonstrate. Babies catch on quicker by imitation, so just have another cup ready for yourself, and mimic what they should do.
Sippy cups are not meant to be used for too long. They should only be used as a transitional phase between drinking out of a bottle or from a breast, and drinking out of a regular cup. By the time the baby turns 1 year old, the transition to a regular cup should have completed.
Water During Hot Weather
When the weather turns hot, it is necessary for the baby to stay extra hydrated. For babies under 6 months, this means breastfeeding or bottle-feeding more often. Up to that age, it is still not healthy for babies to drink supplemental water, but it is necessary for mommies to do so. You have to keep a healthy level of hydration for both you and the baby so that more breastmilk is produced.
Proper hydration for a newborn should result in 6 to 8 wet diapers during the course of 24 hours. Anything less than that requires calling your pediatrician and explaining if there are any symptoms like diarrhea or vomiting. That is why, after the age of 6 months, it is often encouraged that babies take sips of supplemental water during hot days. You should check however if your doctor also recommends it.
Signs of Dehydration
Water plays a major role in monitoring the well-being of your baby. If it’s really hot outside or if your baby displays symptoms of sickness, it might be due to dehydration. Here are the signs that indicate dehydration:
- They produce less than 6 pale wet nappies in 24 hours
- They have not wet their diaper for over 6 hours
- Their urine is a dark shade of yellow
- Their lips are cracked or their mouth is dry
- When they cry, only a few tears (or none) come out
- Their skin is dry and does not bounce back when you press it gently
- Their eyes are sunken
- Their soft spot (called fontanelle) is sunken
- They seem tired, pale, and unusually sleepy
- They are extra fussy
- Their hands and feet are cold
The symptoms of dehydration may cause panic for a new parent. It is important to know how to prevent it as much as possible, aside from increasing the liquid intake.
Make sure you keep your baby away from the sun as much as possible. Their skin is delicate at that young age anyway, so if you really must expose them, make sure they wear something light-colored, and very breathable.
When they are sleeping, make sure they are not bundled up in blankets to the point of overheating. Their sleep attire should also be highly breathable, as well as their covers.
When you are breastfeeding on a hot day, place a blanket or a wet towel between yourself and the baby to prevent skin contact. Make sure to hold your baby upright.
Dehydration during hot weather is understandable. But for the rest of the year, it might be caused by other illnesses. Whether it’s because they are vomiting, have diarrhea, or have a sore throat, and it is difficult for them to eat, babies are losing fluids.
Colds and flu can’t be completely prevented. They are the main viruses that babies – and humans in general – face. The most you can do is wash your hands and face thoroughly, and do the same for your baby.
Frequent visits to the doctor are also helpful. Stay up to date with new vaccines and immunizations against viruses. Starting at the age of 2 months, babies can get vaccinated against rotavirus, and when they’re 6 months old, they are eligible for the flu vaccine.
Getting Rid of Dehydration (0 to 6 months)
If they are throwing up or have diarrhea, make sure to offer breast milk or formula to your baby as often as possible.
For instance, an hour after your baby throws up, offer them a teaspoon of breast milk or formula every 10 minutes for about an hour. If you notice it is working and the baby doesn’t throw that up as well, then increase the intake gradually.
Getting Rid of Dehydration (6 to 12 months)
If your baby has already started to tolerate solid foods then extra water will, in most cases, do the trick.
Sometimes, if the baby is throwing up and has diarrhea simultaneously, you may need to provide them with electrolyte-replacement liquids, such as Pedialyte. These liquids replace the potassium and sodium lost due to diarrhea or vomiting.
Babies may not seem drawn to consume the right amounts of fluids that are necessary for them to thrive. That’s where you and your tactics come in.
Colors and shapes intrigue newborns. If you use a colorful sippy cup, or a spiral straw, or turning the sippy cup into a fun accessory for the baby, it will make them want to hydrate for fun.
Before, during and after engaging in activities that require body temperature regulation, encourage your baby to consume fluids constantly. If an ounce is the equivalent of one baby gulp, four ounces of fluid every 20 minutes during an activity is good enough.
Lastly, if your baby is already starting to get used to sippy cups and supplemental water, flavoring the water is also a good idea. Make the sips fun and refreshing for your baby by adding flavors such as citrus (lemon, oranges, lime) or even cucumber to the water.
Even if it may seem like a normal thing to do, wait at least 6 months before offering your baby a cup of water. They receive that water from breast milk and formula, so don’t worry.
Once it is time to get them used to a sippy cup, make sure the water temperature is somewhere between cool and lukewarm. Room temperature is fine. Monitor the baby as they are getting used to drinking water on their own.
Once they get the hang of it, you won’t need to worry about encouraging him anymore, as he will start asking you for it.
Your baby can then enjoy a drink of water and all the health benefits it provides.