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Is it Safe for Babies to Drink Water?

As adults, we are constantly reminding ourselves to drink water and stay hydrated. We know how important hydration is to our overall health and well-being. However, that is not the case for newborn babies and infants. Doctors and pediatricians have determined that babies should not drink water until they are six months old. In fact, babies that young shouldn’t drink anything other than breastmilk or formula. Newborns and infants haven’t had enough time for their bodies to develop to the point of being able to consume even a few ounces of water without jeopardizing their health.
During the first six months of life, breastmilk or formula meets all of the baby’s nutritional needs, allowing them to develop healthily. Giving a newborn or infant water may mean they won’t drink breastmilk or formula since water will make them feel full, and this is dangerous for the baby as water won’t provide the nutrients they need from breastmilk or formula.
Nutritional Needs
As newborns’ bodies develop in the first six months of their lives, they have different nutritional needs than adults do. Babies do not need the hydration that water provides the way adults do: “All hydration needs are met through breastmilk/formula even in the hot and humidity of the summer,” explains Deborah Malkoff-Cohen, a pediatric dietitian.
If a baby drinks water before the age of six months, the additional water can throw off the delicate balance of nutrients in the body. For example, giving an infant additional water even by watering down formula can throw off the child’s electrolyte balance, potentially leading to seizures. Water can also fill up a newborn’s stomach; at birth, a baby’s belly can only hold about one teaspoon of liquid. If their stomachs are filled with water, they won’t drink breastmilk or formula, which means they won’t get the nutrients they need to grow. Malkoff-Cohen explains it this way: “Water is not recommended for infants under six months old because even small amounts will fill up their tiny bellies and can interfere with their body’s ability to absorb the nutrients in breastmilk or formula.”
Drinking water instead of formula or breastmilk can also cause insufficient weight gain in babies, as they aren’t getting the nutrients they need to put on weight. Issues with growth and weight gain due to improper nutrients can lead to elevated bilirubin levels, which causes jaundice. The best way to guarantee your child’s health for the first six months of their life is to feed them only breastmilk or formula.
Water Intoxication
A main risk of giving a newborn or infant water is water intoxication. Water can be toxic to anyone who drinks too much, but just how much water is too much depends on the size of the person drinking it. As previously discussed, babies have very small stomachs, so almost any amount of water can lead to water intoxication. Giving a baby water too early can cause water intoxication, where the baby’s kidneys flush out electrolytes and sodium, leading to salt depletion that can cause seizures.
If a baby’s blood dips below a certain amount of sodium per gallon, the child is at risk for a condition called hyponatremia. This condition occurs when your cells try to bounce back to normal sodium levels by absorbing extra water; this causes the cells to swell, leading to vomiting and muscle spasms. The swelling can progress to the brain, leading to seizures and brain damage. The best way to prevent this from happening to your newborn or infant is by feeding the baby only breastmilk or undiluted formula.