While it seems unnatural to not provide water to your little ones so early on, there’s legitimate evidence as to why babies shouldn’t have water until about 6 months.

According to Dr. Alan Greene, a California-based pediatrician, the amount of water present in breast milk and formula is adequate for a baby’s health, taking into account water lost through urine, stool, and lungs.

KellyMom, an accredited breast-feeding resource, notes that babies that are breast-fed don’t need additional water, as breast milk is 88 percent water and provides the fluids your baby needs. Assuming that your child is feeding well either through formula, breast milk, or both, their hydration status shouldn’t be a cause of concern.

Why You Should Wait

Water before 6 months is not recommended for the following reasons.

  1. Water feedings tend to fill up your baby with empty calories, making them less interested in nursing. This could actually contribute to weight loss and elevated bilirubin levels.
  2. Providing water to your newborn could result in water intoxication, which can dilute the other nutrient levels in the baby’s body.
  3. Too much water causes their kidneys to flush out electrolytes and sodium, leading to dehydration.

Babies Aged 6 to 12 Months

When your little one is at the stage where you are introducing pureed solids, water could also be introduced.

According to KellyMom, once solids are introduced around 5 to 6 months, a baby’s milk intake reduces from a range of 25 to 30 ounces per day to around 14 to 25 ounces per day.

It all depends on how solids are introduced, what kinds of solids are introduced, and how often they are being consumed. The goal for babies between 6 and 12 months is to ensure adequate nutrition intake and overall growth.

In order to effectively achieve this, introduce solids slowly and in multiple exposures. To supplement water at this time is acceptable, however assuming adequate formula or breast milk intake, your child may not need more than 2 to 4 ounces of water over a 24-hour period.

Water is traditionally introduced through a sippy cup. In this time period, as your child becomes more active, you may find that providing additional water in occasional instances is helpful.

Babies Older Than 12 Months

Once your child is 12 months old, their milk intake will reduce, ideally to a max of 16 ounces per day.

At this stage, you may have established a routine involving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, while introducing a variety of new foods.

Due to the increased activity of your child, the reduced milk intake, and the varied food intake, water intake will naturally increase.

The United States Department of Agriculture recommends that toddlers get approximately 1.3 liters per day (1 liter is 4.23 cups). This includes water from all food and beverage sources, including milk. Additional hydration status could help with proper bowel movements and replenishing fluid loss.

If you seem to have trouble encouraging your child to consume water through a sippy cup, here are additional tips to ensure adequate hydration.

  1. Small sips, more frequently. Encourage small amounts of water or watery beverages throughout the day (if you use diluted fruit juice, no more than 4 ounces of pure juice per day) so that they are hydrated but not full from fluids, which may affect their meal intake.
  2. Fluids can be fun. Young kids seem to be intrigued by colors and shapes. You could use colorful cups and fun-shaped straws so that your little ones are excited about consuming water.
  3. Be mindful of weather and activity. Kids aren’t able to regulate their body temperature as easily as adults, so it’s harder for them to recover and cool off. Encourage fluid intake before, during, and after activities. As a guideline, encourage at least 4 ounces of fluid every 20 minutes, or whenever a break happens. Tip: 1 ounce equals about one "gulp."
  4. Incorporate water-rich foods. Foods such as soups or fruits such as watermelon, oranges, and grapes are rich in water. You can also flavor water with lemon, lime, cucumber, or oranges to make it fun and tasty.

The Takeaway

It’s important to realize that newborns, infants, and toddlers are very different from adults.

What we’d expect ourselves to do in hot weather or during activity is quite different from what they would be encouraged to do. As long as you pay attention to your child’s signs, you’ll make appropriate decisions.