The World Health Organization, the UK National Health Service, the American Academy of Pediatrics all agree that water is simply not needed for a newborn.
Why Don’t Newborns Need Water?
Definitely not because babies don’t get thirsty. It’s because babies, especially if breastfed, receive all water needed to satisfy their thirst from their sole food source – breastmilk. This is generally valid if you can’t breastfeed and feed your baby an infant formula. Formula tries to replicate as closely as possible the nutrient profile of breast milk.
Breastmilk is made up of up to 80% water. Have you ever heard a new mom say her breastmilk was not nutritional? In some cases (not in all, of course), she just refers to the first milk or foremilk as it is usually named. Don’t be misled to think there are several types of milk. The breast only makes one type of milk (which has a relatively high-fat content). Because of the mechanics of milk release, the amount of fat in the milk available to baby gradually changes as a feed progresses. At the beginning of the feeding the fat content of the milk available to the baby is lower and the amount of water, respectively, is greater. It serves to quench the thirst while also giving them the nutrition they need.
As the UK National Health Service explains, breast milk gives your baby the perfect balance of nutrients their little body needs to develop and flourish. Water, on the other hand, does not contain the proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, enzymes, or antibodies of breast milk. If offered water between feedings, the water will fill up the tiny stomach of the baby. This might lead to malnutrition since it will reduce the breastmilk intake. As a consequence, the breastmilk supply might also decrease since it is based on the demand-supply rule.
Wait Until 6 Months To Give Your Baby Water
Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months. Then, you can start offering purees and other solids but breastfeeding should continue until the first birthday of the baby. The WHO even recommends extended breastfeeding up to 2 years or until the baby and mother feel comfortable with. Once you start offering solid foods to your baby, you can start offering water between feeds. The World Health Organization warns against giving babies younger than 6 months water, but if your baby is formula fed (only) and it is too hot outside, and you find your baby is losing too much water, then you can provide (no more than 2–4 ounces).
Are there any risks involved in giving water to an infant under 6 months old?
1. Diarrhea – if the water or container is even slightly contaminated, this might result in an infection and diarrhea.
2. Malnutrition – water takes up the place of breastmilk or infant formula in the tiny baby stomach, causing the baby to eat less than normal.
3. Water intoxication – the newborn’s kidneys are not yet strong enough to deal with excessive water intake. The result might be sodium to be purged along with excess water through the urine. This might bring on water intoxication and even be marked by symptoms like seizures, declining brain activity, besides making a child drowsy and irritable.
4. Reduced maternal milk supply – decreased milk intake signals the mother’s brain that the demand for breast milk has lowered. Thus, the body produces less milk.
How to Prepare Water For Baby
When you prepare infant formula (under 6 months) or start giving your baby water (over 6 months) always use tap water that is boiled freshly and then cooled. Giving bottled water to a baby is generally not recommended. If you have no other choice, check the bottled water label to ensure that sodium/Na level is below 200 mg per liter and sulphate/SO/SO4 is below 250 mg per liter.
Other Fluids After 6 Months
As mentioned above, exclusive breastfeeding (if you can) is recommended for the first 6 months of babies lives. After that, you can start offering purees, water, other fluids and then solids. Other types of milk, like cow milk, must strictly be avoided until a child is at least 1 year old. Fruit juices and smoothies should ideally be given only after the child is 1 year.
Babies, like all humans, get thirsty. But before you reach for that bottle of water to feed your newborn, know that an infant under 6 months of age simply doesn’t need water. Especially if they are breastfed. In fact, health authorities worldwide warn against giving newborn babies water due to the risk of diarrhea and malnutrition.
The breast only makes one type of milk (which has a relatively high fat content). Because of the mechanics of milk release, the amount of fat in the milk available to baby gradually changes as a feed progresses.