If you’re a new parent, you may be wondering how much salt is OK to include in your baby’s diet.
While salt is a compound that all humans need in their diets, babies shouldn’t get too much of it because their developing kidneys aren’t yet able to process large amounts of it.
Giving your baby too much salt over time may cause health problems, such as high blood pressure. In extreme and rare cases, a baby that’s had a large amount of salt may even end up in the emergency room.
Too much salt during infancy and childhood may also promote a lifelong preference for salty foods.
This article explains what you need to know about salt and babies, including how much salt is safe, and how to tell whether your baby has had too much salt.
You may add salt to your baby’s food in hopes that it’ll improve the taste and encourage your baby to eat.
If you use a baby-led weaning approach to feeding your baby, you may end up serving your baby foods containing more salt simply because you’re serving them the saltier foods you eat as an adult (
However, babies who get too much salt through their diets can run into a few issues.
A baby’s kidneys are still immature, and they aren’t able to filter out excess salt as efficiently as adult kidneys. As a result, a diet that’s too rich in salt may damage a baby’s kidneys. A salt-rich diet may also affect a baby’s long-term health and taste preferences (
Babies are born with a natural preference for sweet, salty, and umami-tasting foods (
Repeatedly being offered salty foods may reinforce this natural taste preference, possibly causing your child to prefer salty foods over those that are naturally less salty.
Processed foods, which tend to be salty but not typically rich in nutrients, may be preferred over whole foods with naturally lower salt contents, such as vegetables (
Finally, salt-rich diets may cause your baby’s blood pressure to rise. Research suggests that the blood-pressure-raising effect of salt may be stronger in babies than it is in adults (
As a result, babies fed a salt-rich diet tend to have higher blood pressure levels during childhood and adolescence, which may increase their risk of heart disease later in life (
In extreme cases, very high intakes of salt can require emergency medical care, and in some cases, even lead to death. However, this is rare and usually results from a baby accidentally eating a quantity of salt much larger than parents would normally add to foods (12).
Too much salt can damage a baby’s kidneys, increase their blood pressure, and possibly raise their risk of heart disease later in life. A salt-rich diet may also cause your child to develop a lasting preference for salty foods.
Sodium, the main component in table salt, is an essential nutrient. Everyone, including babies, need small amounts of it to function properly.
Young babies under 6 months of age meet their daily sodium requirements from breast milk and formula alone.
Those 7–12-months-old are able to meet their needs from breastmilk or formula and the small amounts of sodium naturally present in unprocessed complementary foods.
As such, experts recommend that you don’t add salt to your baby’s food during their first 12 months (
Having an occasional meal with salt added is OK. You may sometimes feed your baby some packaged or processed foods with salt added or let them try a meal from your plate. That said, overall, try not to add salt to the foods you prepare for your baby.
After 1 year of age, recommendations vary slightly. For instance, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) considers 1,100 mg of sodium per day — about half a teaspoon (2.8 grams) of table salt — safe and adequate for children of 1–3 years (
In the United States, recommendations for the same age group average 800 mg of sodium per day. That’s about 0.4 teaspoons (2 grams) of table salt per day (14).
Babies under 12 months should not get any additional salt through their diet. Intakes between 0.4–0.5 teaspoons of salt appear safe in children up to 4 years old.
If your baby eats a meal that’s too salty, they may seem thirstier than usual. Typically, you won’t notice the effects of a high salt diet immediately, but rather over time.
In extremely rare cases, a baby that’s eaten too much salt can develop hypernatremia — a condition in which there’s too much sodium circulating in the blood.
If left untreated, hypernatremia can cause babies to progress from feeling irritable and agitated to drowsy, lethargic, and eventually unresponsive after some time. In severe cases, hypernatremia can result in coma and even death (
Milder forms of hypernatremia can be more difficult to spot in babies. Signs that your baby may have a mild form of hypernatremia include extreme thirst and a doughy or velvety texture to the skin.
Very young babies may start crying in a high pitched fashion if they’ve accidentally eaten too much salt.
If you think that your baby may have gotten into too much salt or is beginning to show signs of hypernatremia, call your pediatrician.
If a baby has a salty meal occasionally, you may notice they are thirsty. In extremely rare cases, babies who have ingested large amounts of salt may develop hypernatremia and require medical attention.
As a parent, you can limit the amount of salt your baby eats in several ways.
Most baby food purées may contain small amounts of naturally occurring sodium from the foods they are made with but very little, if any, added salt. If your baby is currently eating them exclusively, they’re unlikely to ingest too much salt.
If you make your own baby food, skip adding salt, choose fresh foods, and check labels on frozen or canned vegetables and fruits to find lower sodium options.
Also, remember to rinse canned foods, such as beans, lentils, peas, and vegetables, before adding them to purées or meals. Doing so helps reduce their sodium content (16).
If you’re doing baby-led weaning, you can set aside a portion of meals for baby before adding salt or make family meals with spices and herbs instead of salt.
Check the sodium content of foods you frequently buy, such as bread, cereal, and sauces. Lower sodium versions are available for most packaged foods, and comparing labels can help you find a brand with less salt added.
Frozen meals, as well as takeout or restaurant foods, are generally higher in salt. Occasionally, it’s fine for baby to have these meals, but when dining out, a lower salt alternative would be to bring a few foods from home for your baby.
You can minimize the amount of sodium your baby eats by offering them foods without added salt. Replacing pantry foods like bread and sauces with low sodium alternatives can also help.
Babies need small amounts of salt in their diet. However, their bodies can’t handle large amounts. Babies fed too much salt may be at risk of kidney damage, high blood pressure, and possibly even an increased risk of heart disease.
Moreover, a salt-rich diet may cause babies to develop a lifelong preference for salty foods, in turn, possibly lowering the overall quality of their diet.
Try not to add salt to your baby’s foods when they are under 12 months. After 1 year, you can include a small amount of salt in your child’s diet.
Just one thing
When cooking a family-style meal, get into the habit of adding salt near the end of cooking. This way, you can reserve a no-salt-added portion for your baby.