While it seems unnatural to not provide water to your little ones early on, there’s legitimate evidence as to why babies shouldn’t have water until they’re about 6-months old.
The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that babies that are breastfed don’t need additional water, as breast milk is over 80 percent water and provides the fluids your baby needs. Children who are bottle-fed will stay hydrated with the help of their formula.
Assuming that your child is feeding well, either through breast milk, formula, or both, their hydration status shouldn’t be a cause of concern.
Giving your baby water before six months isn’t recommended for the following reasons.
- Water feedings tend to fill up your baby, making them less interested in nursing. This could actually contribute to weight loss and elevated bilirubin levels.
- Providing water to your newborn could result in water intoxication, which can dilute the other nutrient levels in the baby’s body.
- Too much water causes their kidneys to flush out electrolytes, including sodium, leading to imbalances.
When your little one is at the stage where you’re introducing pureed solids, water could also be introduced.
According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), once solids are introduced around 4 to 6 months, a baby’s milk intake reduces from a range of 30 to 42 ounces per day to around 28 to 32 ounces per day.
It all depends on how solids are introduced, what kinds of solids are introduced, and how often they’re 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. It’s acceptable to supplement with water at this time. 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.
Buy: Shop for a sippy cup.
Once your child is 12-months old, their milk intake will reduce, ideally to a maximum 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 CHOC Children’s hospital in Orange County, California recommends that a 1-year-old gets approximately one 8-ounce cup of water every day.
This amount increases each year. The number of 8-ounce cups an older child consumes each day should correspond with their age (up to a maximum of eight 8-ounce cups per day). For example, a two-year-old should consume two 8-ounce cups per day.
Staying hydrated can help your child have proper bowel movements and replenish any lost fluids.
For most children, all you need to do is provide frequent access to water and they will drink enough to meet their needs. If you seem to have trouble encouraging your child to consume water through a sippy cup, try these additional tips to ensure adequate hydration.
Encourage small, frequent sips
Offer small amounts of water throughout the day. Your child will be hydrated but not full from other fluids, which may affect their meal intake.
If you use diluted fruit juice, limit their intake to 4 ounces of pure juice per day.
Make fluids 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.
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. An ounce of water is equal to about one “gulp” from your little one.
Incorporate water-rich foods
Your baby may be ready take their first sip of water at six months. However, it’s important to realize that newborns, infants, and toddlers have very different hydration than 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 activity and give them plenty of access to water after age 1, you’ll make appropriate decisions.
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Anita Mirchandani, MS, RD, CDN, received a BA from NYU and an MS in clinical nutrition from NYU. After completing a dietetic internship at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Anita became a practicing registered dietitian. Anita also maintains current fitness certifications in indoor cycling, kickboxing, group exercise, and personal training.