When Can Babies Drink Water?

If you’re parenting a newborn or counting down the days until your little one arrives, then this is for you. Feeding them is at the top of your to-do list. But whether you’re breastfeeding, formula feeding, or both, you may wonder when it’s safe to give your baby water. And you may be surprised that they’re not supposed to drink plain water during their first several months of life. Keep reading to find out when babies can safely have water, how to introduce it to them, and what to watch out for (this is intended to be informational, not instructional).

6 Months Is the Magic Number—Here’s Why

Breast milk and formula provide all of the nutrition and hydration your baby needs. Unless your little one is suggested something different by your pediatrician, breast milk and/or formula should be their only sources of nutrition until your bundle of joy celebrates 6 months of age. Why? With such tiny tummies, they can only digest a finite amount of liquid. Therefore, that liquid needs to be packed with newborn-friendly nutrients plain water lacks. 

What About Formula With Water?

But wait—what if you’re already feeding your baby infant formula that has to be mixed with water? Many recommend boiling then cooling tap water before mixing it with baby formula. Here’s the problem: Boiling only kills germs and bacteria that can’t withstand heat. It does not remove hundreds of dangerous contaminants that have been detected in tap water, bottled water, and well water. 

Even worse, some contaminants like lead and nitrate become more concentrated when boiled. Think about it: When water reaches its boiling point, it starts to evaporate. As the total volume of water decreases through evaporation, the concentration of heat-resistant contaminants in the remaining water increases. So before you bring your water to a boil, be sure to read this.

Don’t Dilute Formula

It’s not rare for well-intentioned parents to consider diluting formula or breast milk with extra water. Even adding small amounts of water to young babies formula is a no-no for the reasons outlined above. HealthyChildren.org and The American Academy of Pediatrics make it crystal clear babies do not need any more than the exact ounces of water specified by your formula’s manufacturer. The bottom line is adding extra water, or diluting formula, reduces nutrient intake and can slow growth and development.

How To Introduce Your Baby To Water

Just because your baby is 6 months old doesn’t mean they're ready to tip back a glass of water with every meal. While their stomach is still growing, too much water can overwhelm their immature kidneys, and lead to water intoxication. Yep—it’s a thing. Excess water flows into their bloodstream, altering electrolyte balance and putting them at risk of developing hyponatremia.

Your baby’s kidneys aren’t primed to process water like ours, therefore we need to offer water safely to avoid a scary trip to the children’s hospital. Wondering how much is enough water? Here are some basic guidelines revealing the recommended ounces of water your baby needs at mealtime. 

Common Contaminants In Water Can Hurt Your Baby

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for enforcing national water quality standards. Yet, the organization publicly admits problems with drinking water inside its own informational guide titled ‘Children and Drinking Water Standards.’ This may not be a surprise to you, but the same contaminants that lurk in tap water can also be found in bottled water and well water.

The Dangers In Tap Water, Bottled Water, & Well Water

Here are a handful of contaminants that are dangerous to young babies—and have been detected in tap water, bottled water, and well water:

  • Fluoride: Small amounts of fluoride can help prevent tooth decay. However, too much can stain teeth with white lines and spots, known as dental fluorosis. Plus, fluoride can affect your child during pregnancy. Boiling water doesn’t remove fluoride and typical carbon filters are useless against it.

  • Lead: Lead can affect your baby’s brain, kidneys, and nervous system, and delay physical and mental development. Lead contamination is a widespread problem across the United States. With millions of lead service pipes contaminating tap water from coast to coast, it’s a problem that will take significant time and resources to solve.

  • Nitrate: Exposure to nitrate can cause blue baby syndrome (also known as methemoglobinemia), which can lead to serious illness and death. Plus, the chemical has been linked to low birthweight, premature birth, and neural tube defects (NTDs). Nitrate is heat-resistant. Therefore, boiling water that contains nitrate only makes the contaminant more concentrated.

  • Arsenic: Studies show arsenic exposure during pregnancy (and after) can lower your baby’s IQ and impair brain development. 

  • Manganese: This naturally-occurring metal can impact memory and motor skills leading to neurodevelopmental risks such as learning and behavioral issues.

  • What About Starting Solids?

    Keep in mind, most babies will continue to breastfeed or drink baby formula throughout their first year—and perhaps beyond. After their first birthday, they’ll eat more solid foods and drink more water as they start to consume less breast milk and formula. So, your baby will be introduced to sips of water at 6 months and drink more and more of it as they graduate from that sippy cup to an open cup. That’s why it’s so important to get a head start on protecting them.

    How To Protect Your Baby

    As always, consult your child’s pediatrician or seek professional medical advice before making any changes to their diet. Remember, all of the above is intended to be informational, not instructional. In the meantime, protect your child by protecting your water. Under ordinary circumstances, the safest way to sterilize your tap water is to invest in a water filter like ours, certified to remove the aforementioned contaminants as well as others that can be dangerous to your little one.

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