Does my baby need water?

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It is one of the most common questions we hear as midwives – and the answer is simple - this might be the shortest blog I’ve ever written;

No.

Whether your baby is breast or formula fed, babies under the age of 6 months don’t need water, in fact, in can be quite dangerous.

Even in hot weather, babies receive all the hydration they need from breast milk or boiled water in formula, depending on your feeding preference. Babies will demand feed more frequently when they are requiring more hydration, and particularly if breast feeding you may find that short and frequent feeds are more common at certain times of the day.

Breast milk contains a perfectly balanced ratio of food and water to meet all your baby's needs. It is a living fluid, ever changing to suit your baby. Breast milk is made up of about 80% water and the milk that is let down initially aids in quenching your baby’s thirst, while the richer hind milk ensures your baby is receiving all their nutritional needs. Formula milks have been heavily researched to attempt to mimic breast milk compounds as closely as they can, and therefore the boiled water to powder ratio are essential to follow.

Water is broken down in our kidneys, and baby’s kidneys, just like most of their other body parts; take time to work at capacity. A baby’s kidneys are far too immature to process excess water. Although it is always a recommendation for older children and adults to consume adequate amounts of water, our kidneys are armed with things that sound like super powers such as hydrostatic and osmotic forces, that move and breakdown water and electrolyte compounds, which baby’s kidneys are far too immature to do effectively.

When giving a baby water before the age of 6 months while they’re kidneys are still developing, we put them at risk of low sodium levels. Sodium is an electrolyte that regulates the amount of water in and around the cells in our body. By having too much water, a baby’s sodium becomes diluted and isn’t able to regulate cells as normal, often causing those cells to become swollen. In severe cases, this can be life threatening.

Trust your body and listen to your baby. If they want to feed more frequently there is probably a very good reason for that, but there is no need to supplement with water. For more information on your baby’s nutritional requirements, speak to a lactation consultant, child health nurse or visit the Australian Breastfeeding Association website. The following publication from QLD Health is useful for when your baby is getting ready to start solids and you would like to introduce cooled boiled water in a cup.

https://www.health.qld.gov.au/ph/documents/childhealth/28108.pdf

Kaitlin Reid, Midwife

Arrivals Obstetric Centre

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