Babies (0-12 mos)


Child Development


When Should I Give My Baby Water Instead of Milk?

toddler drinking from sip cup

When Should I Give My Baby Water Instead of Milk?

As adults, drinking water is a part of our daily routine. Although we’re used to staying hydrated by drinking enough water, babies get all the fluids they need from breast milk or formula. Once your baby starts to be more active, it might be tempting to give them water to cool off. However, giving them water too early can cause more harm than good. You might wonder when you can give your baby water instead of milk.

Before they’re 6 months old, it’s generally not safe for babies to drink water, especially in large amounts. Even if they are thirsty, all your little one needs at this stage is breast milk or formula. Babies should still consume mostly breast milk or formula until they’re 12 months old. Keep reading to find out more about when babies can drink water and why it’s not safe for little ones to drink water too soon.

Cute baby boy drinking from bottle. Kid lying on carpet in nursery at home. Smiling child is 7 months old.
Babies under 6 months old get all the fluids they need from breast milk or formula.

©Oksana Kuzmina/Shutterstock.com

When Can Babies Drink Water?

If your baby is getting to the point where they’re crawling or toddling around, you might think they need water to stay hydrated. Despite the fact that babies are very active, they don’t require water since they get all the fluids they need from breast milk or formula.

Not only do babies not need water to stay hydrated, but also it can be dangerous for babies under 6 months old to drink water. Drinking too much water at this age can interfere with the balance of nutrients in their body, leading to hyponatremia, or water intoxication. Although a few sips of water may be fine, there’s no reason to get in the habit of giving your baby water since it carries more risks than benefits. If your baby is thirsty, give them breast milk or formula.

Even if you’re in a situation where your baby is sweating a lot or losing fluids, the best thing you can do to prevent dehydration is to offer more frequent sips of breast milk or formula if your little one is under 6 months old. Let’s take a closer look at what babies of different ages should be drinking.

Babies Under 6 Months Old

When your baby’s under 6 months old, it feels like they’re growing right before your eyes. Although you may be tempted to help them reach milestones such as eating solid foods or drinking water, breast milk or formula is all your baby needs for the first 6 months of life.

Giving your baby solid foods or even water before they’re ready leads to numerous risks. As long as your baby is getting enough breast milk or formula throughout the day, they don’t need any other food or liquids, including water.

Babies 6 Months to 12 Months Old

After your baby turns 6 months old and is showing signs of readiness for eating solid food, your little one can start trying new things! But what about water? If your baby is at least 6 months old, you can offer your baby small amounts of filtered water if they’re thirsty. If you offer them tap water, you should boil it first. However, it’s important that water does not replace the breast milk or formula they’re drinking.

Even after 6 months, your baby still requires breast milk or formula to stay healthy. You can safely give your baby small amounts of water at this point, but it’s not required as long as they’re getting enough fluids elsewhere.

Babies Over 12 Months Old

Once your baby’s first birthday rolls around, there are more possibilities for what they can eat and drink. Although you can still offer breast milk to your baby, and there are many benefits for doing so, they can also start to drink cow milk or other types of milk. 

If they’re not drinking breast milk, their main source of fluids should be from cow milk and water. If you give them tap water, you no longer need to boil it if the water source is clean, but you might choose to give them filtered water instead.

How Much Water Does My Baby Need?

While it’s not recommended for babies under 6 months old to drink water, by the time they’re 1 year old, you’ll need to know how much water they should drink in a day. Here are the recommendations for babies 6 months old and older:

  • 6-12 months old: 4-8 oz of water a day
  • 12-24 months: 8-32 oz a day
  • 2-5 years: 8-40 oz a day

Keep in mind that children under 12 months old don’t need to drink a lot of water since breast milk or formula should still be their main source of nutrients and liquids. Also, this is only the recommendation for water, not for other liquids such as juice or even milk.

Children under 1 year old shouldn’t drink cow milk or other types of milk unless approved by their doctor. If you have any concerns about the amount of fluids your baby is getting, talk to your pediatrician.

Cute little African American baby drinking from baby bottle
You can safely mix powdered formula with water as long as you use the recommended amount.


Can You Mix Baby Formula With Water?

Since babies under 6 months old shouldn’t drink water, you might wonder about mixing formula with water. To make a bottle of powdered formula, you have to mix it with water. 

It is safe for you to mix formula with water as long as you stick to the manufacturer's recommendations as far as how much water to use. This is safe because even breast milk contains 87% water, and it allows your baby to have the right balance of nutrients. What isn’t safe is watering down or diluting the formula or breast milk.

If you dilute your baby’s formula, it can be dangerous for your baby since they’re not getting the accurate amount of nutrients. It can also lead to water intoxication. While this isn’t likely to happen if you measure the water incorrectly one time, you should never intentionally dilute your baby’s formula or breast milk.

What Type of Water Is Safe for My Baby?

If your baby is 6 months old or older, you might wonder what type of water is safe for your baby. You may have different concerns about the cleanliness and safety of your baby’s drinking water, depending on your water source.

Here are a few tips for making sure your baby’s water is safe:

  • If you’re giving your baby tap water and they’re under 1 year old, boil the tap water first. Be sure to let it cool completely before giving it to your baby.
  • If you have well water or a recently contaminated water source, don’t use tap water.
  • Bottled water or purified water are good alternatives if you don’t have a clean tap water source.

Tap water is often the safest option for your baby since the government in the United States regulates the quality of tap water. However, you can have your water tested if you’re concerned about contaminants.

What Other Drinks Can I Give My Baby?

Once your baby is old enough to drink water, you may want to give them other drinks as well, such as fruit juice. Although fruit juice can be a treat for older kids, it’s not recommended for children under 1 year old. Most brands of fruit juice are packed full of sugar and lack the fiber and other nutrients children get from eating whole fruit.

There are some types of fruit juice, such as Honest Juice, that are watered down and don’t contain as much sugar. If your baby is over 1 year old, you can give them a juice with lower amounts of sugar or let them have it as a treat every once in a while. 

Other types of drinks such as sodas or caffeinated drinks are not safe for children, no matter how old they are.

Giving Your Baby Water for the First Time: Final Thoughts

Your top priority as a parent is keeping your baby healthy, which includes keeping them hydrated. While it may be tempting to give an infant water when they’re thirsty, it’s not safe for babies under 6 months old to have a lot of water. After 6 months, they can have a sip here and there, but their main source of fluid should still be breast milk or formula.

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