Giving water

Does my baby need water?

Babies less than six months old should not be given water as breast milk or infant formula meets all their needs. Water given to babies less than 6 months of age will take the place of breast milk or infant formula and not provide the nutrients they need. Between 6 and 12 months of age, when babies are eating solid foods, parents may want to give the baby small amounts of water, expressed breast milk, cow’s milk, or infant formula in a cup with a meal. At one year, breastfed children will continue to take most of their milk as breast milk but can drink small amounts of water, expressed milk, or cow’s milk with meals with meals. At one year, infant formula-fed babies will change to drinking whole cow’s milk. They should not drink more than two cups of cow’s milk a day. If they need more liquid, they can be offered water.

A) Giving water to babies who are under six months

Babies less than six months old should not be given water. At this stage, breast milk and infant formula meet all of the baby’s needs (EFSA 2010). Giving babies water displaces breast milk and infant formula and does not provide essential nutrients. Excess amounts of water can cause babies to develop low levels of salt (sodium) which can result in drowsiness, seizures, brain damage, and death.

The following are not reasons to give your baby water:

  • You want to help a newborn who is not breastfeeding well or is jaundiced.
  • It’s hot outside. Breast milk is 87% water and will keep your baby properly hydrated. Infant formula is similarly effective.
  • Your baby has diarrhea. A baby needs nutrients to return to health, and water does not provide those.
  • Your baby doesn’t want to take breast milk or infant formula. See your health-care providers in this situation as the baby may be sick.
  • You want to train your baby for bottle use. Expressed breast milk, or if not exclusively breastfeeding, infant formula should be used for this purpose.

B) Giving water to babies who are between six months and one year of age

Until one year of life, a baby’s primary milk should be breast milk or infant formula.

When breast fed babies start solid foods around six months, they may like a small drink of water, expressed breast milk, or cow’s milk in a sippy cup (cup with a lid that has a spout) with meals that have drier foods such as bread.

Infant formula-fed babies can be given infant formula instead of expressed breast milk at mealtime.

Give your baby no more than small amounts of water or cow’s milk a day. More water or cow’s milk and will displace appropriate milks and solid foods and may result in the baby not growing well.

C) Giving water to children who are more than one year of age

After one year of life, breastfeeding children will continue to take in breast milk as their main milk and do not usually need additional milk but may like small amounts of water, expressed breast milk, or cow’s milk in a cup with meals. They can be given expressed breast milk or cow’s milk when the mother is not available to breastfeed.

After one year of life, babies who are infant formula-fed will change to drinking whole cow’s milk instead. They should not drink more than 500 ml (2 cups) of whole cow’s milk a day. They should be given water if they need more liquid.

References

EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products (EFSA). Nutrition, and Allergies (NDA). Scientific Opinion on Dietary reference values for water. EFSA Journal 2010; 8(3):1459, 48