“Dr. Linda, why can’t babies drink water?”

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.

Young babies get all the water they need from breastmilk or formula even on hot or dry days. It can actually be dangerous to give young babies plain water because their immature kidneys can’t handle free water easily. They can end up losing too many salts from their bodies because the extra water flushes too many salts from their bodies and can cause 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.

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:

  1. It makes the formula more dilute so the baby won’t get enough calories to grow and thrive.
  2. Over time, the extra water in the formula may lower the level of salts in the baby’s blood to dangerous levels (water intoxication).

Doing the opposite, not adding enough water to formula powder, creates a different problem. In this situation, the overly concentrated formula puts too much stress on the immature kidneys and can raise the levels of salts in babies’ blood, which can lead to dehydration and possibly seizures.

As you can see, the water balance in babies bodies, especially young ones, is very delicate so be mindful.

After 6 months of age, babies’ 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 the chemical processes that produce energy, clear wastes and 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).

To stay healthy your older baby and child needs you to help them replace the water they’re using up.

So, 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 they need in the form of Pedialyte or an oral rehydration solution and consulting with your doctor first.

As you can see, water is an essential ingredient in keeping your babies and children healthy, you just need the proper information so you know what to do.

I would love to hear any questions you have about your babies so please leave them in the comments below.

In the meantime have a happy, healthy day.