How and when to introduce water to babies
Water is essential for all bodily processes and it is important that your baby builds a healthy relationship with it, this is especially important once they stop having their usual milk feeds. It is common for parents to have questions about when to introduce water to their baby, how to give it, how much to give and what type of water to offer. We’ve asked Amie Lunn, aka The Mummy Nutritionist, a qualified Nutritional Therapist, Breastfeeding Peer Supporter and an advocate for infant health and nutrition, to dive straight in and shed some light on these important questions.
WHEN TO OFFER WATER?
The NHS recommends introducing ‘sips of water with meals’ when your baby starts their weaning journey at 6 months; at this stage, it is simply about getting baby used to drinking water, rather than a source of hydration. Little open cups like Babycup First Cups are the perfect size for these little sips. Up until age 1, babies don’t need much water, as breastmilk or formula provides all the hydration they need. Exclusively breastfed babies will not need any water at all until 6 months, this is because breastmilk adapts to babies’ needs depending on the climate. Before 6 months, formula fed babies may need small amounts of water but only in hot weather. Once your baby reaches 1 year old, you can start offering larger amounts of water between meals and let your little one lead. I discourage offering large volumes of liquid with meals, this is because drinking while eating dilutes our digestive juices and digestive enzymes, which can compromise digestion. This means our little ones can have a harder time digesting and utilising all the nutrients available to them in their food. Instead, offer larger volumes of water between meals, and continue offering little sips with meals.
HOW MUCH WATER?
Up until age 1, breastmilk or formula provides most of the hydration your baby needs. I don’t like to be too strict about specific volumes of water needed for different ages, as this can cause stress for some parents. It’s impossible to know what volume of milk a breastfed child is taking from the breast, making it impossible to know how much water they need. Furthermore, fresh fruits and vegetables also contain varying amounts of water which contribute to your little one’s hydration levels, so their needs will vary depending on what they’ve eaten; as with most things, it is never one size fits all.
The best way to know if your little one is getting enough fluids is to keep an eye on nappy output and the colour and smell of their urine. If their nappies are looking yellow and smelling strongly, they could do with additional fluids.
It is worth noting that toddlers and small children have an immature thirst mechanism, so a gentle reminder to drink every hour or so is a good idea. The European Food Safety Authority lay out guidelines for fluid intake across all ages, you can use these values as a guide, but don’t get too hung up on them.
HOW TO OFFER WATER?
The NHS advise the best way to introduce water is with an open cup. There are various benefits to using such a cup:
- It encourages babies to learn how to sip rather than suck
- A sipping action helps babies develop the muscles they need to speak and promotes optimal jaw development, leading to healthy and properly positioned teeth
- It helps babies develop hand-eye coordination
Using a baby-sized, open cup such as the Babycup First Cups is ideal, as they are the perfect size for small hands. It can take some practice for little ones to be able to drink from an open cup, be patient and just offer a little amount to begin with, it might get messy!
WHAT TYPE OF WATER?
After 6 months, it is safe to give babies water straight from the tap; formula fed babies having additional water before 6 months should be given tap water which has been boiled and cooled. Although tap water is safe, it is a good idea to invest in a water filter that removes chlorine. Chlorine is the main cleaning agent used to make sure the water that comes from our tap is safe to drink. However, just because it is safe, doesn’t mean it is optimal, as small amounts of chlorine remain in the water (next time you get a drink of tap water give it a good sniff, chances are you will smell it). It is safe to assume that regular exposure to trace amounts of chlorine may impact the infant (and adult) gut microbiome, this is the collection of bacteria residing in the digestive system, responsible for various tasks such as digestion and assimilation of nutrients. It is best to avoid anything that may cause disruption to the development of our infants’ delicate gut microbiome, as research is now confirming its far-reaching effects on overall health, so a water filter is a great investment for the whole family.
WHY ONLY WATER?
Babies and children do not need juice, and juice should be avoided wherever possible. It isn’t just the sugar that’s a problem for little ones in terms of dental and gut health (sugar can feed the growth of the less favourable bacteria in the gut), sugar-free versions should be avoided also. Sugar-free squashes usually contain artificial sweeteners, which I tell families to avoid as more research is needed into their safety. There have been some alarming results correlating their consumption in children to an increased risk of obesity; the jury is still out on their use, with mixed opinions among professionals – my opinion is avoid where possible, and consume real sugar in moderation (at least sugar is ‘real’ food and not a man-made chemical). If you do choose to give juice, make it 100% fresh juice, not from concentrate, dilute it with water and only give alongside meals to minimise the impact on teeth.
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Macintyre, A., Marryat, L. and Chambers, S., 2018. Exposure to liquid sweetness in early childhood: artificially‐sweetened and sugar‐sweetened beverage consumption at 4–5 years and risk of overweight and obesity at 7–8 years. Paediatric Obesity, 13(12), pp.755-765.
Martino, D., 2019. The Effects of Chlorinated Drinking Water on the Assembly of the Intestinal Microbiome. Challenges, 10(1), p.10.