When and How to Serve Water to Babies and Toddlers

August 25, 2022

Water is the basis of life and a natural component of the human body. Children’s bodies especially need proper water intake. After all, it is at an early age when the most critical stages of the development of the nervous, circulatory, respiratory, digestive, and immune systems take place.

So, does a baby need water? This question bothers many new parents, and doctors’ recommendations differ: some believe that the baby does not need any additional fluid, while others argue that the child needs water. Let’s debunk the most popular myths about water: the most popular misconceptions about its benefits, quantity, quality, and possible harm to babies.

Should I give water to my newborn?

Breast milk is both food and drink for the baby because it consists of 90% water and is able to keep the fluid balance at the right level during the first weeks of life. Breast milk helps with digestion because it contains all the necessary enzymes. Moreover, the mother’s body can adjust to the baby’s needs very accurately, adjusting the composition of the milk depending on the situation.

It may seem that the baby does not need water, but it is not true: there are situations where you can’t do without it.

Despite the fact that the WHO officially states that giving water to babies is strictly not recommended, pediatricians have found that in certain situations, water becomes a necessity for the child:

  • If the baby has a high fever;
  • If there is a bowel disorder;
  • If the child is sweating profusely.

In these cases, water is safe for your baby and may come to the rescue because medications dissolve well in it. It quickly restores the necessary water balance.

At the same time, there is the other point of view that breast milk can cope with these tasks much better.

However, formula-fed babies and toddlers who have already been introduced to a “complementary food” need water.

When do breastfed babies need water?

Regarding newborns, parents can start giving their babies water from six months. It is better to do this between feedings – if the baby feels thirsty, he or she will gladly drink water.

How much water can I give a newborn? Here, as in adults, everything is individual. Usually, pediatricians advise giving a certain amount of fluid per day at the rate of no more than 100 ml per kilogram of weight, but this includes breast milk. So, on average, 30 to 70 ml of water per day will be enough for the baby. After all, he or she continues to drink breast milk or milk formula, ensuring the body receives fluids. Naturally, if it is too hot and the air is dry, the volume of drinking increases.

You can give water to a newborn from a bottle or even a spoon – in the future. It will facilitate the introduction of complementary foods because the baby will already know how to use a spoon. But the most important rule is voluntary: if the child is cranky and does not want to drink, you should not insist.

Does my formula-fed baby need extra water?

Formula feeding is markedly different from breastfeeding – the baby formula contains much more protein than breast milk, so the baby needs extra fluids from the first days of life. Lack of water, especially when fed with too much formula, can lead to constipation in babies. Additional water will help to empty the bowels and make the baby feel better. When calculating food, in this case, water is not counted in the total amount of food. You can give water earlier with formula or mixed feeding than with breastfeeding.

When can babies have water to drink?

After six months, just like food, parents should give their child water to get used to the new element in the diet, learning what water tastes like and its consistency. In numbers: after the start of complementary foods, the child can drink an average of 60 to 120 grams of water per day.

Importantly: do not give your baby juices. The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated in its nutritional guidelines that juices should not be given to children under 12 months, even if it says “from six months” on the package. Giving the baby fresh fruits and vegetables is better.

You should give water to babies sometimes after a meal and between feedings. Do not forget that the size of the child’s stomach is tiny, which means that immediately he or she will not be able to drink a large amount of water – a few teaspoons will be enough to start.

In some situations, the need for fluids increases. Identifying the first signs of dehydration is simple: infrequent urination (normal – about 20 times a day), dry mucous membranes, skin, and tongue. In such a situation, water is simply necessary.

Many pediatricians recommend that babies also drink water when they are sick – with fever or colic, which can easily be recognized by the squeezed legs, upset stomach, and anxiety of the child. A few sips of warm water can also help with hiccups.

What is water intoxication?

Water intoxication or “water poisoning” is an excess of water in the body. This condition can lead to serious illness. A baby’s kidneys are not fully developed yet, so they can’t filter water properly, sweat glands are also just developing, and the extra fluid in a baby’s body can accumulate and lead to unfortunate consequences, including seizures and brain swelling. As the child grows, the kidneys gain the ability to filter additional water, usually by one year of age.

If your child has the following symptoms, you should see your doctor:

-Sleeping too long. A drowsy state during wakefulness;

-Swelling around the eyes;

-Vomiting;

-Convulsive twitching of the legs and arms;

-Excessive sweating of the body.

Intoxication can lead to neurological disorders, developmental retardation, and cause limb paralysis.

What water to choose for a baby?

It is best to choose special bottled water for babies. Boiled water is not recommended, as it contains a large number of salts and bacteria. The exception may be using such water in case there is no other option.


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