Recent news coverage of guidance about feeding babies water has caused some new parents to worry for their babies’ health.
The story started in Buzzfeed, with an interview with registered dietitian Katie Zeratsky from Mayo Clinic, which ran with the headline: ‘This Is Why You Should Never Give Your Baby Water’.
It was picked up The Sun and The Mirror, who went with the following headlines respectively:
‘PARENTAL GUIDANCE Here’s the reason why you should NEVER feed water to your baby – as it could have fatal consequences’
‘Why you should NEVER feed your baby water – and how it could be fatal if you do’
But according to NHS Choices the truth isn’t quite so dramatic – in fact if you bottle-feed a little bit of water is recommended in hot weather.
The Sun quoted the NHS website to back up the argument that babies should never drink water: “Fully breastfed babies don’t need any water until they’ve started eating solid foods.”
However, what they failed to mention was that the NHS website also states:
“Bottle-fed babies may need some extra water in hot weather.”
So while it is true that under most circumstances babies under six months do not need water – as they will get all the hydration and nutrients they need from formula or breast milk – it is not true that you “should NEVER feed water to your baby”.
Babies shouldn’t be given water often, but the odd sip is not going to kill them.
Dr Helen Webberley, GP for Oxford Online Pharmacy, explained:
“Water is unnecessary for breastfed babies as all of their fluid – and nutrient – requirements are met by mummy’s milk. As the temperature rises, the make up of the milk adapts, to ensure thirst is sated.
“You may find your baby wants to breastfeed more than usual when in hotter climes and you should respond to that need rather than supplementing with water.
“With bottle-fed babies, formula should be mixed exactly according to the instructions and this again ensures baby has the combined fluid and nutrients it needs – think of it as a power shake, your baby has a small capacity to take on fluid and as such any fluid it does take on has to pack a real nutritional punch.
“If the weather is particularly hot, small sips of cooled boiled water can be given to babies of all ages but this shouldn’t really be necessary if you are feeding on demand.
“Once you begin weaning your baby, water can be given as an additional fluid. In hot countries and climates babies should be kept at a safe temperature to avoid excess heat and dehydration.”
If you are going to give your formula-fed baby water in the summer the NHS website offers the following advice:
“For babies under six months, use water from the mains tap in the kitchen. You will need to boil, then cool, the tap water as it’s not sterile straight from the tap.
“Water for babies over six months doesn’t need to be boiled.
“Bottled water isn’t recommended for making up formula feeds as it may contain too much salt (sodium) or sulphate.”