From an early age, we learn water is essential for us to live. We play in it, we cleanse with it, we cook with it, and most importantly, we drink it. As adults, we know that drinking water is always the best way to hydrate and some of us even carry water bottles with us throughout our day as a reminder. However, the substance that may be the healthiest and safest for us is not necessarily what’s best for babies.
Mary Ellen Pizza, MD, a pediatrician with ProMedica Physicians, said drinking water should not be introduced until babies begin to eat solid foods, which is recommended between 4-6-months of age. (Read more about introducing solid foods in this article.)
“Babies who are breast feeding or formula feeding are already getting enough liquids; they do not require any additional water,” Dr. Pizza said.
Furthermore, there are many complications that can arise from a baby ingesting a large amount of water.
“If a baby is ingesting too much water, they may not want to drink as much of their breast milk or formula, and then they will not get the calories or nutrients they need,” Dr. Pizza said. “It can also cause problems with the baby’s fluid and electrolyte balance.” In rare cases, this can lead to water intoxication, seizures and, in very extreme cases, death.
This is why Dr. Pizza and other pediatricians also recommend not diluting breast milk or adding more water when preparing formula than what’s specified in the instructions.
Despite the potential health problems, there are occasional instances when it is appropriate for parents to allow their babies to drink water before the recommended age. An example of this, Dr. Pizza said, is an occasional ounce of water in a bottle with a nipple to help soften a babies bowl movements, if babies are experiencing trouble. Parents should speak to their baby’s pediatrician before giving water, or any liquid except breast milk or formula to young infants.
When a baby becomes the recommended 4-6-months, Dr. Pizza recommends introducing drinking water in a Sippy cup. “At this age, babies are able to hold their heads up and they are better able to coordinate the drinking and swallowing mechanism,” Dr. Pizza said. “This is different than the sucking they did on a breast or a bottle.” It’s always recommended that parents talk with their child’s pediatrician before making this step to introduce new liquids.
Have a question about feeding your baby? Let us know in the comments below.