Water or no Water?

Now that my boy is growing (he’s almost 4months now), I am increasingly being told that I should probably give him some water. Living in Doha in the summer can be exhausting for adults, so the wee one must also be getting dehydrated right? WRONG.

Breastfed or bottle-fed babies under 6 months need no water at all. Breastfed babies do not need even a drop, and for bottle fed babies, it isn’t a necessity either. No matter how hot it is. The baby gets the necessary hydration from the milk itself.

Yes, it was a practice once upon a time where all babies were given water, sugar water even. And many use that as the defence – the “we all had water and nothing is wrong with us” argument. Please keep in mind that it was also quite common to not use car seats back in the day. Just because it was done that way while we were young doesn’t mean it is the best way.

Research has shown that water does nothing for the baby. Keep in mind that babies can consume only a certain amount of food, which usually is breast milk or formula. And if you are giving water, you are decreasing the amount of breast milk or formula they can have. And there is no argument as to what has more nutrition and benefits, right? It is obviously the milk, and not water.

As such, if a baby drinks 3ounces of milk during a feed, but you want to give about 0.5ounce of water, then baby can only have 2.5ounces of milk – because he will be full after having 3ounces of liquid. Hence losing out of the nutrition and benefits of that much milk, and for a wee baby, that could count as a lot.

I have been asked “not even a few drops”? Why would you give 3 or 4 drops of water, which has zero benefits as opposed to giving the baby the same amount of nutritious milk? Even if it’s a tiny amount, I would think – isn’t it just better to give the drink that has benefits for the baby?

If I feel that my baby is getting too hot, and fussy, I just make sure that I give him some more breastmilk. This will give him the hydration as well as the nutrients. According to Dr. Sears, your breast milk contains enough water for your baby, even in hot, dry climates. For bottle fed babies, it is okay – not ideal – but acceptable to have a few drops after about 4months.

And no, babies don’t need to have their palette cleaned.

Another argument I have heard in favor of giving water is that they will develop an aversion to drinking water while growing up if they are not given water right from when they are little. By this token, all adults should love milk? Since they drink it right from the day they are born? And all adults should also hate solids, because they eat solids only after they turn six months old?

Harmful Effects

Someone asked the other day: what harm can a few drops of water do? And I thought it just meant fewer calories, and I did some digging and found that it could be harmful, if one is not careful.

Physicians at the John Hopkins Children’s Center have reiterated that babies under 6 months of age do not need water.

Water can in fact adversely affect the baby’s ability to absorb the nutrients from the milk that is being given. If done for a long time, it could even affect the baby’s weight. Logic – more water means less milk, thus less nutrition and calories, and hence less weight gain.

Research says that water supplements have resulted in increased bilirubin levels – which is a contributor towards jaundice.

If babies are given a lot of water (more than 2ounces in a 24 hour period), it could even cause oral water intoxication. This happens because their kidneys are not yet fully developed, thus diluting the electrolyte levels, and this condition can even be life-threatening. According to pediatricians at the St Louis Children’s Hospital, “too much water dilutes a baby’s normal sodium levels and can lead to seizures, coma, brain damage and death.

So if you do decide to take the risk, be extremely careful.

The only exception to the no water rule (especially for exclusively breastfed babies) is when it is medically warranted, and on the advise of a paediatrician – in case of constipation for example.

You should ideally only give water to babies after they cross the six months mark – when they start solids. And it is best to give water using a sippy cup, rather than in the bottle.

Bottom line is this:

A happy healthy baby does not require water, just milk. Giving water to a baby under four months is a complete no-no. From 4-6months, a few drops are okay, but the baby is not benefitting from it. So, there really is no point to it. Why bother doing something that adds no value whatsoever?

Over the course of researching for this piece, I have read a large number of articles by pediatricians, and all of them maintain that babies under 6months do not require any water, and that all their hydration and nutrition needs are met by the breast milk or formula they drink.


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