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As a mother, no one knows your baby’s needs like you do. When it comes to their nutritional needs, in particular, it’s important to pay more attention to what the doctor has to say over any advice you may get from others. Many of us have been told that it is alright, even necessary, to give water to your baby who is still breastfeeding or is on formula feed. Babies also need water and get thirsty, we are told. Moms, we recommend you MUST read the doctor’s opinion on this before you plan on doing so.
A baby’s nutritional needs vary as they grow up. It’s amazing how moms learn to understand baby signals and are able to decipher what they want. The cranky cry signal means they need sleep, the post-nap cry means they want food, and the uncontrollable cry means they are facing some discomfort. There are also many times when people say that the baby might be crying due to the hot weather. He is thirsty and you need to give him water. So what should you do? Give them water?
The Water Rule For Breastfed and Formula-Fed Babies
According to paediatricians, if your baby is under six months and is being exclusively breastfed, he should NOT be given water at all, even during the hot summers. Breastfed babies do not need any supplemental water as the breastmilk itself gives them all the hydration they need. Giving them extra water is not just unnecessary but it can actually be harmful!
However, if your baby is being formula fed, he may need some water supplements from time to time. This is because formula has a higher salt level and can be harder on the baby’s kidneys. Some extra water may be needed in order to excrete it. Plus, formula fed babies also tend to use up fluid faster as their metabolism tends to be slower than breastfed babies at this time. If your baby is constipated, feverish, or if the temperature is too hot, you can give a few sips of water (boiled and cooled). Even so, be very careful not to administer too much water and always discuss this with the paediatrician in person too.
Watch: Things to Know Before Giving Water to Babies
Why Water Is Prohibited For Breastfed Babies Under Six Months
This strict rule may come as a bit of surprise to many of us. Water works wonders for us as adults. It is the solution for so many of our health problems, including infections or tummy troubles. But then why is it not recommended – or even banned – for babies under six months who are being breastfed? And why is it okay to give water to formula-fed babies? There are some very strong reasons for this:
1. It Can Interfere With Absorption of Milk
For your baby under six months, breastmilk contains all the essential nutrients he needs – including fluid content. Drinking water does nothing for his growth but it can prevent the absorption of these nutrients! Your baby has a tiny stomach now and might feel so full because of the water that he consumes less breastmilk or formula. This means your baby’s growth rate may get affected and he will not get the amount of nutrition he needs!
2. It Can Trigger Infection
According to a report published by the World Health Organization (WHO), giving water to breastfed babies can be harmful as it makes them susceptible to various infections. The water, no matter how purified, may not be clean enough for the baby and might contain certain bacteria or germs that could cause diarrhoea and malnutrition.
3. It Can Even Cause Intoxication
This is relatively rare but has been known to happen. Sometimes, if a baby drinks too much water, the water ends up diluting sodium in the body and upsetting the electrolyte balance. This can trigger seizures in the baby – a condition called water intoxication.
4. It Can Even Affect The Mother
Finally, giving water to exclusively breastfed newborns or babies under six months is not just harmful for them, but can cause problems to the mother as well. Some experts suggest that doing so may have an impact on the mother’s milk supply. As per the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, supplementation of breastmilk in the first few days interferes with the normal frequency of breastfeeding. This will affect your baby’s feeding in the long run.
What If My Baby Is Thirsty?
The most common challenge we as moms face is to deny a baby water when he looks thirsty, or when it is very hot outside. Many of us are even criticised for this by our family and elders. However, it is very important to remember this fact:
Babies under six months of age who are exclusively breastfed, which means babies who are only fed breastmilk, with the exception of oral rehydration solution, drops, syrups of vitamins, minerals or medicines, DO NOT require water. In fact, breastmilk itself is composed of 88% water! It is sufficient to supply the fluids your baby requires at this tender age.
Therefore, even when you feel your baby is feeling thirsty, feeding breastmilk would suffice. Nursing babies are able to regulate their fluid intake by feeding more often. They also do this by consuming enough of the watery foremilk (this is the breastmilk that comes out at the start of a feed and is lower in fat and calories) to satisfy their thirst.
However, if your baby is on formula milk, you may need to occasionally give him water.
When Should I Introduce Water To My Baby?
So, when can babies start drinking water, you may ask? The simple answer to this is – NOT before he is six months of age. The WHO recommends that water should not be fed to exclusively breastfed babies below 6 months, even during hot weather, unless specified by a physician due to a medical condition. Sometimes, if your baby has increased bilirubin levels, has excess weight loss or has longer hospital stays while under 2 months of age, he may require water supplements. However, this is strictly as per the doctor’s discretion and you should stay away from feeding any water to your baby orally until he’s six months old.
For babies who have crossed the 6 months mark, doctors recommend that water can be given, as long as these guidelines are adhered to:
1. Best Time To Introduce Water
The best time to start letting your baby have water is when they begin eating solids. This also helps in preventing constipation. Please remember that even for toddlers and older babies, breastfeeding shouldn’t stop when solids begin. Breastmilk is an excellent source of nutrition for your baby. It also fulfills a lot of the need for hydration in your baby’s body
2. How To Offer Water
Serve water to the baby in a bottle or cup for ease and convenience. Include a straw to ease the process. Children mimic what elders do, therefore, encourage your child to have water when you drink as well.
3. How Much Water To Give
Your baby doesn’t need a lot of water at this time. When a 4-6 months baby learns to hold a cup, you could let them have a few sips of water in a day (not more than 2 ounces or 4 tablespoons per 24 hours). To begin with, feed 4 ounces of water a day after your baby crosses the 6 months mark. You can then gradually increase the intake
Usually, babies accept water quite easily and like to mess around with their water bottles and cups. As your baby grows up, try and inculcate the habit of periodically drinking water. It is a good habit that will keep him away from health and digestion problems in the future. If you find that your baby displays any aversion to water, or spits it up, don’t force him but try again later. Also discuss this with your paediatrician. It is always best to follow the doctor’s opinion and discretion regarding decisions on your baby’s food, nutrition and health.