Human beings need to drink the right amount of water every day to achieve the healthy state of balance known as homeostasis – the delicate balance between how much water we consume and how much we release through urine, sweat, respiration, etc. Newborns and young infants have specific requirements for hydration, just as toddlers, children, and adults do. Infants actually need more fluid than we do, so it is important to measure how much your little one is drinking every day, and to be vigilant of any signs your baby needs a top-up of milk (and eventually, of water).
Why do newborns, babies, and children need more fluid?
Newborns need to ingest a significant amount of fluid because they have a much higher percentage of water than older children and adults. They also have a faster breathing and metabolic rate, which is why they grow dramatically in their first year. Babies also have immature systems, including their renal function and they are not as thirst sensitive as adults. That is, they may go for longer periods without needing to drink, and they may fail to replenish their hydration levels after taking part in physically demanding tasks. Finally, babies are less able to cool themselves down. They sweat less than adults do, have a lower ability to adapt to heat, and can get more dehydrated when they are physically active.
Newborns only need milk in the first six months
Doctors recommend that babies receive their fluid needs exclusively from breast milk or formula for the first six months of their life. Breast and formula milk are actually made up of 88% water so avoid feeding your newborn plain water – since doing so could potentially result in water intoxication (sodium dilation). When sodium dilation occurs, brain activity can be affected, the face can swell up, and seizures can arise. The American Academy of Paediatrics actually recommends exclusively breastfeeding a child for the first six months to support growth and development. Busy moms can use a pump for later feeding, and those using formula milk can get the balance right by simply using the right powder-to-water ratio, as recommended by manufacturers.
When can a baby start to drink water?
A good time to introduce water to babies is when they start weaning (at the age of six months). Babies will continue to obtain the majority of the fluid they need from milk until the age of around a year, so don’t worry if they aren’t too interested. It is important to ensure the water you are giving your baby meets safety standards and that it is not softened – since this process can add too much sodium to your baby’s diet. Opt for still rather than sparkling water, and steer clear of juice and other sugary drinks, which can make your baby disinterested in non-flavoured fluids. At mealtimes, offer your baby a cup filled with tap or bottled water.
In the first few months of a baby’s life, milk is the magic fluid that ensures a baby is neither dehydrated nor over-hydrated. As your baby begins to wean, high-water-content fruits and veggies will help to keep them hydrated, while water can be served to ensure they aren’t thirsty. Finally, speak to your paediatrician about appropriate fluid levels and the right timing for introducing water, to ensure your baby achieves the healthful state of homeostasis.