Do Breastfed Babies Need Water Too?

The summer my daughter was born was a hot one. As I sweated buckets and downed gallons of Poland Spring to stay hydrated, I couldn't help but look quizzically at my infant and wonder: Does a breastfeeding baby need to drink water, too? At the time, my daughter was nursing exclusively, but that just didn't seem sufficient in this sweltering heat. Was she slowly dying of dehydration? After all, don't all living things need water?


As strange as it seems, even in desert-like conditions, breast milk alone (or infant formula) is enough. "Breastfed babies do not need extra water, even in hot weather," says Tamara Melton, RDN, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics who specializes in breastfeeding and infant nutrition. For one, if a baby's thirsty, he'll just demand more breast milk or formula. And even if it's 100+ degrees out and your body's drenched in perspiration in an effort to cool down your internal temperature, "little babies don't sweat much at all, since their sweats glands haven't developed much yet," Melton continues. "That's why babies can get overheated in a car so quickly." 

Yet since a baby gets all his liquid from breast milk, this does put extra onus on the mom to up her fluid intake. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, during breastfeeding, moms should try to take in around 13 cups of fluid per day, which can include not only water, but low-fat milk or 100 percent fruit juice. "They can drink more if they are thirsty and should keep a water bottle handy," says Melton. "A good time to catch up on fluid intake is to sip on water while baby is nursing.”

Babies should start drinking water when they start eating solid food, which usually starts at around 6 months. "Offer the baby water in a cup or sippy cup while she is eating, and let her drink as she wishes," says Melton. "This may be a little more or less than one cup per day. Since a baby's stomach is small, you don't want to give her too much water, as water can make the baby feel full, and she may refuse to breastfeed or take her bottle." Once babies are fully weaned, they can start drinking more; according to the Institutes of Medicine, children 1 to 3 years old should take in 1.3 liters of water per day. And since kids this age don't always notice or verbalize when they're thirsty, be sure to regularly offer them something to drink, at least once an hour.

When did your baby start drinking water?

Image via reway2007/Flickr

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