Following on from my recent post all about drinks for babies and toddlers, I wanted to create a post specifically on the topic of water for babies. It may seem like a simple subject, but it can bring about a lot of questions. So I’m hoping to collate all the information on water for babies in one place. To hopefully clear up some of the confusion! In this post we’ll touch on why water is a great option for hydration, when it should be offered and how much at each age. Also, what’s the deal with bottled water and what to do when it comes to travelling or going on holiday.
Why do babies need water?
While breastmilk/infant formula will be the primary drink during the first year of life, water is an ideal second drink option for infants and toddlers. Water has a neutral pH and it’s great for hydration. It’s also free and in the UK we’re fortunate to have it readily available, clean & safe.
When it comes to weaning, water should ideally be the only alternative drink offered to milk to encourage good habits early on. Drinks like smoothies, juices and fizzy drinks can be harmful for tiny teeth and aren’t recommended for young babies. See my blog on Drinks for babies and children to find out more.
An interesting and important point to note is that children have a decreased thirst sensitivity compared to adults. Meaning that they aren’t able to recognise symptoms of thirst as well as we are. That’s why it’s important that we’re offering water regularly to help get them used to the practice of keeping hydrated.
When do babies drink water?
Exclusively breastfed babies won’t need water until they start eating solid foods (from around 6 months). Breast milk provides all of the necessary hydration. Formula-fed babies may need additional water only during hot weather.
From around 6 months, when you start weaning it’s a good idea to introduce some water with meals. This is mainly to get your baby used to the taste of water and also to encourage the use of a cup (read this blog for more on cups and beakers).
Do I need to boil and cool tap water for my baby?
When offering water to babies under 6 months, tap water is not suitable as it’s not sterile. It should be boiled first and then allowed to cool before offering to a baby. For babies over 6 months, there is no need to boil tap water anymore and you can offer water straight from the tap. This is the advice in England.
How much water does my baby need?
When thinking about how much water your little one should be aiming for, it’s important to note that water can come from foods as well as drinks. The guidelines in the table below refer to the total intake which includes both food and drinks. Generally speaking, drinks account for about 80% of fluid intake. While food accounts for another 20%. Fruits, vegetables and milk are all good food sources of water and so a diet rich in these can contribute a higher amount of fluid to the overall intake. The graphic below shows some of the top foods for offering hydration!
The table below shows the recommended total fluid intake and what this means in household measures.
Bottled, Fizzy & Flavoured
If you do have to use bottled water, whether for feeds or as a drink, make sure to check that the sodium (may be shown as ‘Na’) level is below 200 milligrams (mg) per litre and the sulphate level (may be shown as ‘SO’ or ‘SO4’) is below 250mg per litre. Boiled water should reach a temperature of at least 70C to prepare a feed, allowing to cool before giving to baby. Again, whether using bottled water for a feed or for a drink, best practice is to boil and cool it before offering to baby.
In terms of fizzy & flavoured water, The Mummy Dentist touched on this is her post, so I’ll include her helpful information again here.
- Fizzy water – doesn’t contain sugar but it is ‘carbonated’. The process by which the bubbles are added involves a weak, carbonic acid. This means the pH of sparkling water is often reported as between 5-6 (neutral is 7). Potentially this is a problem with regards to tooth enamel and erosion. Baby tooth enamel is relatively thinner and so more vulnerable, which is why no fizzy drinks are advised for young children.
- Flavoured water – or water with an added taste. Some of these contain sugar, some will be labelled ‘sugar free’. But the fruit flavourings are created by using sweeteners (natural or artificial) and citric acid. A study reported that the average pH of fruit-flavoured waters to be 3.3 which can again lead to softening of the tooth enamel. Increasing the risk of dental issues including erosion and decay.
Water when travelling abroad
In the UK we’re lucky that safe drinking water is readily available. However this isn’t always the case when travelling abroad, which can make it a bit trickier with a little one in tow. Check out https://travelhealthpro.org.uk/countries for some useful information on recommendations in the destination you’re visiting. When travelling with a young child, make sure to look for baby friendly water brands. Such as Evian, where the salt and sulphate content is well below the recommended limits. There should a label on the bottle signalling if it’s ‘baby friendly’ or not. But you can always check the back of pack to see the levels of sodium and sulphate yourself.