The (first) drinking age
The pediatric community warns parents not to give water to babies younger than 6 months old. Why? Babies in this age range are still on an exclusive diet of breast milk or formula. Introducing water before this age could interfere with Baby’s ability to digest the milk he needs, and put him at risk for more serious health consequences. Even at 6 months old, babies should take no more than a few sips of water per day.
In the end, it can be prudent to wait until Baby’s first birthday or so before he starts drinking water regularly.
The risks of hydration
Whenever a baby’s digestion of breast milk or formula is disrupted, that baby misses out on nutrients that are essential for his or her growth and general health. Drinking water might also cause Baby to feel full, thereby cutting his appetite for milk.
This is the most common risk of offering your child water too early. In rarer cases, giving a baby water too early can lead to water intoxication, though this would require larger amounts of water. Water intoxication dilutes the sodium in a baby’s body, leading to an electrolyte imbalance and swelling, puffy tissue, and can put babies at risk for seizures, brain damage, and even death.
The inaugural round
Once Baby is officially eligible for his first H2O encounter, start him with just a few small sips of water from his bottle. As the weeks go by, you can slowly allow Baby more sips depending on how thirsty he is. By the time Baby’s 1-year birthday rolls around, you can stop the rationing and let him drink as much water as he wants.
Drinking water safety
If you plan to give Baby tap water, it’s a good idea to check with your local water utility about water safety for infants and babies ahead of time. Water should not contain too much fluoride – for instance, no more than 0.7 mg per liter of water, since too much fluoride in his water and diet can lead to too much fluoride deposited on his teeth as they form beneath the gums. If your community’s tap water has too much fluoride for Baby‘s growing teeth, you can buy a home water filter to filter excess fluoride out of the tap water, or you can buy low-fluoride water at the supermarket.
If you plan to use tap water, running the cold water in the faucet for about 3 minutes before drinking the water reduces the chances of lead and other mineral contamination. Using warm or hot water from the tap for drinking or cooking isn’t recommended, because hot tap water contains a higher level of lead and other impurities.
If your local health department or your healthcare provider recommends boiling tap water before drinking it, bring the water to a high boil for a full minute before letting it cool. Extra boiling time is not recommended, as it can lead to a higher concentration of impurities as the water evaporates.
If you plan to use well water for Baby when he is less than a year old, make sure your well water has been tested for safety. Well water can contain an excess of nitrates, and boiling the water will only makes them more concentrated.
- Alan Green. “Is it safe for babies to drink water?” New York Times. New York Times, August 19 2009. Retrieved October 25 2017. https://consults.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/19/is-it-safe-for-babies-to-drink-water/.
- “Water Intoxication in Infants.” St. Louis Children’s Hospital. St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Retrieved October 25 2017. http://www.stlouischildrens.org/articles/wellness/water-intoxication-in-infants.