Dr. Linda, My 18-month-old drinks a lot of water, why can’t I give my 2-month-old plain water?
That is a great question and here is the science behind water and your baby.
You can also read about advancing your child’s diet part 1 & part 2
Up until 6 months of age, babies can’t drink water because their kidneys have not matured enough. They get all the fluids they need through breastmilk or formula even on hot or dry days.
It can be dangerous to give young babies plain water because their immature kidneys can’t handle free water easily.
This leads to accumulation of extra water in their blood lowering the concentration of salts causing what is known as ‘water intoxication’ (water poisoning).
Water intoxication can cause babies to look and act sick, be tired and lethargic and can even cause seizures.
Diluted Baby Formula
Besides giving babies bottles of water there is another way young babies can get too much water for their kidneys to handle. This is when parents add too much water to powdered formula trying to make the formula powder last longer. This is not a good idea for two main reasons:
It makes the formula more dilute so the baby won’t get enough calories to grow and thrive.
Over time, the extra water in the formula may lower the level of salts in the baby’s blood to dangerous levels (water intoxication).
Concentrated Baby Formula
Another fairly common issues is that some parents don’t add enough water to formula powder. This creates a different problem where the overly concentrated formula puts too much stress on the baby’s immature kidneys and raises the levels of salts in babies’ blood, which can lead to dehydration and possibly seizures.
So please be sure to prepare the formula exactly the way the can suggests.
As you can see, the water balance in babies’ bodies, especially young ones, is very delicate so be mindful.
After 6 months of age, your baby’s kidneys have matured and can handle plain water. In fact, teaching your older babies to drink water is a great habit to start since 70%-75% of infants bodies is made up of water.
Infants’ bodies use water for all the chemical processes that produce energy, to clear wastes from their bodies and to keep their bodies supple and lubricated. They use water for digesting food, making the puddles of saliva they produce when they’re teething as well as in making urine, poop, and sweat (which they do to keep their body temperatures normal).
In order to stay healthy your older baby and child needs you to help them replace the water they’re using up.
Once your baby is 6 months old, you may want to consider offering them sips of water a few times a day, in between meals especially after they have been out in the heat or in a dry environment. At this point, you really don’t need to worry about giving too much water because your baby is very smart and will only drink what they need!
I know that some doctors recommend giving young babies water to help with constipation. If you are doing this without consulting your doctor first, I would recommend that you consider giving your baby the extra fluids in the form of Pedialyte or an oral rehydration solution and consulting with your doctor.
Water is an essential ingredient in keeping your babies and children healthy, you just need the proper information so you know what to do and when.
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