Do Formula Fed Babies Need Water – Why and Why Not?

Hydration is important for all of us, and you might have reached this article while researching if your formula-fed baby needs water. Water supports the proper functioning of an infant’s body and plays a significant role in its development and growth. Good water intake is necessary, does your baby need water on the side on top of their milk supplement? I was wondering this also when we transitioned our little one from breast milk to formula milk and found many answers that I’ll share below.

Normally, babies do not need to drink water but there are cases when they do. According to scientific data, 75% of the baby’s body is made up of water, which makes them more susceptible to dehydration, as compared to adults. Also, the water loss is greater in infants, as they have a large surface area as compared to their weight. Researchers have found that babies older than 6 months do need water and during excruciating hot temperatures which are normally found in summer, a few sips won’t harm them at all. According to a famous pediatrician, Dr. Sears, Babies that feed on breast milk need no water at all, because the breast milk itself consists of 88% of water, salts, and minerals. On the other contrary, babies who are fed on formula do need water, because the formulas have higher concentrations of minerals and salts as compared to water. So, the extra water helps babies’ secrete additional salts from the body.

How much water should be offered to babies?

This can be a very tricky question if you do not know the answer to, because, water can disturb your baby’s intake of breast milk/formula. So, your baby should only be given around 2-3 Oz of water per day, or you can consult your pediatrician beforehand.

The reason why you should be aware of the quantity of water to feed your baby is, that water can fill their stomach, and affect their appetite for breast milk or formula.

With less formula or breast milk, your baby can start to lose weight and their bodies can fall short on nutrients, essential for growth.

When can you start giving your baby regular water?

For babies that are under 12 months, or specifically 9 months or under, the water needs to be given with extra care. Studies have proved that water intake reduces a baby’s breast milk intake by up to 11%. Excessive water intake of babies can lead to serious health issues as it dilutes the sodium levels within their bodies.

According to a Pediatrician James P. Keating excessive intake of water can lead to the following effects:

  • Seizures
  • Brain damage
  • Death, in extreme cases

Breast milk has all the water a baby needs, so babies under 9 months should not be given water at all but, formula-fed babies, on the other hand, should only be given no more than 2-3 oz. of water.

Importance of breast milk

Importance of breast milk for babies

During the first week, a newborn needs around 80-100 ml/kg fluid depending upon temperature, activity, and weight.

For 3-6 months old babies the fluid requirement increases up to 160 ml/kg. Pediatricians say that breast milk alone is enough to fulfill the fluid requirements of babies.

The reasons why breast milk is considered the best water and nutrients supplement is:

1: Breast milk is 88% water

2: Breast milk has lower solutes

Breast milk fulfills your baby’s water needs and is considerably safer than outside fluids. Though in the beginning the milk is much thicker and has less water, it is perfect for the newborn as their bodies consist of extra water upon birth.

The main reason that water is given such importance for babies is that it helps them flush out excessive solutes. Though newborn kidneys do not mature until they are 3 months old, their kidneys are still able to flush out excess solutes with the help of water.

As breast milk is low on solutes and high on water concentration, it is best for 9 months or younger babies.

Composition of breastmilk
Source: Rehydration Project

Importance of water for babies

Water is considered as an essential component for human survival. From babies to adults, water plays an important part in development and growth. Water has great benefits for babies for so many reasons:

  • It maintains the body temperature
  • Keeps the joints lubricated
  • Helps fight against infections
  • Keeps cells and organs hydrated and functional
  • Improves sleep, mood, and intellect

Why newborns shouldn’t be given water?

Newborns under the age of 4-5 weeks should never be given water supplements as their bodies are very delicate at that stage. Water can increase the bilirubin levels in their bodies leading to weight loss or other intoxications.

Water has none of the nutrients that babies need to grow healthy. Water supplements make babies lose their appetite for milk/formula, which does not only affect their nutrient intake but can also affect the mother’s milk supply.

Mothers with newborns naturally have optimum milk supply to feed their babies but it starts to decrease when the baby is not feeding as it should be.

What type of water should be given to babies?

What type of water should be given to babies? Nursery water or boiled water are good options.

For babies, the best water is nursery water, or boiled water if you can’t get nursery water. Tap water contains several hard metals which can lead to other health-related issues, hence boiled water is the best option.

On the other hand, bottled mineral water is not considered a good option for little ones, as its high on minerals like sodium and sulfate, which are not healthy for their delicate bodies.

If you are away from home and your only option is bottled water than choose the one that has less sodium percentage, around 200 mg or less. Also, the number of Sulfates that are represented by SO or SO4 on the label should not exceed 250 mg per liter.

Water intoxication and its symptoms?

Water supplements along with hydration are a source of pathogens as well. Excessive water or unhygienic water can have diarrhea-causing organisms within. Excess water intake can disturb the natural balance in their bodies and hinder a baby’s development and growth.

The brain is the most susceptible part of an infant’s body to water intoxication.

Water intoxication can take several forms, some of them are visible in behavior, while others lead to serious health issues, some of which are:

  • Irritation, sleepiness, and muddle
  • Fuzzy vision
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Irregularities in breathing and paleness
  • 97 degrees or lower body temperature
  • Puffiness or swelled face
  • Seizures

Water intoxication is dangerous and can seriously harm a child, which is why doctors’ emphasis more on breast milk than formula, as breast milk contains all the water filled with nutrients.

If you feel like the weather is too hot and the baby needs water, then overfeeding them on breast milk more often is a safer and more nutritional option as compared to water supplements.

Studies have shown that infants that were given water, tea, and herbal preparations along with breast milk are more likely to catch diarrhea than an excessively breastfed baby.

Should babies suffering from diarrhea be given water?

Mothers whose toddlers suffer from diarrhea need to breastfeed their babies more often. In cases of severe diarrhea, it is advised by Integrated Management of Childhood Illness (IMCI) to get professional help and keep feeding the child on breast milk.

Oral Rehydration Therapy may be needed for dehydrated infants. In Oral Rehydration Therapy, Oral Rehydration Solution is used which helps restore the water and electrolytes lost during diarrhea.

Depending on how old your little one is, you can talk to your pediatrician about giving them infant Pedialite to help restore electrolytes in their body.

Some additional tips

  • If your baby is a year old and taking swimming classes, then you need to make sure that the baby doesn’t swallow water during these lessons as it can cause water intoxication.
  • When traveling, boiling the bottled water is the best and safest option if you are using it as a drink or adding it in your baby’s formula.
  • Place a cotton towel over your body while feeding your kids in hot summer days, so that your body warmth and sweat does not affect your baby.
  • If your baby has pale skin, feeling sleepier than usual, has dark-colored urine, and is showing more irritation than usual than these could be signs of heat-related illness. Call your pediatrician as soon as you can.
  • Limit your outdoor activities in summers as it can cause dehydration in both mother and the baby.
  • Adding more water to formulas is a good way to keep your baby hydrated.

Hajira is a certified editor, an experienced and thoughtful writer, and a mother of two. Her deliberate passion for writing convinced her to become a writer along with her mom duties. Driven by her passion for writing, she takes pride in providing the best possible. She aims to incite and provoke enthusiasm in her readers.

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