By Taylor Grothe Updated on May 5, 2023
If you have a little one at home, you might be wondering when babies can drink water. We turned to experts to find out the best age to introduce water.
As your baby grows, you might wonder when it’s alright to give them water to drink—or if breast milk and/or formula is enough to prevent them from being thirsty. You may have heard that babies under 6 months shouldn’t have water, but you might be curious if there’s exceptions. With all the different transitions in a baby’s first year of life, it can be hard to know when to move onto the next one, especially when the guidance on feeding babies changes so often.
We spoke with experts to learn more about when babies can drink water, how much water you should give them, and what to do if you have a picky baby who just doesn’t like water at all.
Babies under 6 months of age should not consume water, as their main source of nutrients comes from breast milk and/or formula. Giving a baby under 6 months water could deter them from accessing all of the vitamins and nutrients that they need. When introducing water after 6 months of age, be sure to progress in small amounts, and follow your child’s lead.
What Age Can Babies Have Water?
It’s normal for babies to appear very hungry when they’re young, especially when they’re cluster feeding. Before they have the means to tell you, it’s understandable that you might wonder if your child is also thirsty. However, experts say you should not give any water to your child before they turn 6 months old.
Christina Johns, M.D., pediatric emergency doctor and senior medical advisor at PM Pediatric Care, explains that babies can start drinking water at the same time you begin introducing solid food, at roughly 6 months of age. “This should be introduced gradually and carefully, starting out with small sips between meals,” she explains.
While water is necessary for adults, it’s not so with infants. They get their nutrients in other ways.
David Berger, M.D. founder and owner of Wholistic Pediatrics & Family Care, and founder of Wholistic ReLeaf, says that drinking water even at 6 months of age, is not entirely necessary. “Babies get all of the fluid they need through breast milk or formula,” he continues.
So if your 6-month-old only has a sip of water at first, rest assured that breast milk and/or formula will be enough to stave off any thirst.
Why Shouldn’t Babies Under 6 Months Drink Water?
Giving infants water before 6 months can pose some risks. Most notably, if a baby “fills up” on water, it might impede their ability to receive adequate nutrients. “Giving water to them at this stage puts them at risk of consuming less breast milk or formula, thereby not receiving all the nutrients they provide,” explains Dr. Johns.
It’s important to keep up with regular feedings of formula or breast milk so that babies can grow up healthily, with all the vitamins their body craves. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers guidelines for feeding your child: at 6 months, babies may be eating up to eight ounces of formula and/or breast milk every four to five hours.1
Dr. Johns also points out another potential issue, even after 6 months of age. “Giving more than a few ounces of water a day to babies less than 12 months old can put them at risk of developing seizures due to low blood levels of sodium, so it’s best to avoid/limit water as a general rule in this age group.”2 While not a common occurrence, parents should know the risk along with the signs of seizures in infants just in case, which can include rolling eyes, stiffening of limbs, blinking, and spasms.
Parents should also mindful of how much water babies under one year old are having. The safest bet is to avoid water entirely when your child is less than 6 months old.
Are There Exceptions to the Water Rule for Young Babies?
Parents might also wonder if there are exceptions to the rule. What if their baby is constipated or has a fever? Is it OK to give water then?
However, medical experts advise against water under 6 months of age, even if your child seems uncomfortable. “Instead, babies may consume more breast milk or formula during these out-of-the-norm situations,” explains Dr. Johns.
Dr. Berger agrees, and explains that, even in the case of constipation, water is not the best bet. “Water does not work as a laxative,” he says. “Small amounts of prune juice, pear juice, apple juice or grape juice would be better options.”
However, be sure to contact a pediatrician or health care provider before giving anything other than breast milk or formula to a young baby. If your child showing signs of fever or constipation, be sure to reach out to a health care professional as well.
How Much Water Should an Older Baby Drink?
The important thing to know is that before a baby is one year old, water is not necessary. Until then, they should still rely on breast milk or formula to round out their nutritional needs, even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it’s OK to introduce solids.3
“There is no ‘should’ until after turning one year old,” says Dr. Berger regarding water. “If a baby is continuing to get multiple full nursings or at least 20 ounces of formula, I advise that be the main fluid.”
But the introduction of water after 6 months is OK medically. Dr. Johns says that water should be introduced gradually, like all other new foods and drinks. Small sips with meals are key, increasing consumption as your baby grows.
“There’s no hard rule, but one good time to introduce it in small sips is during the transition to cup-drinking,” she explains.
My Baby Doesn’t Like Water—Now What?
Let’s face it: babies can be picky eaters—and drinkers! What happens if your 6-month-old won’t drink the small amount of water you offered them? First of all, don’t panic! “If your baby is less than 12 months old, there’s no need to try to ‘push’ water drinking,” says Dr. Johns. Instead, focus on breast milk or formula. They won’t get dehydrated, and will still get all the nutrients they need.
“As long as the baby is getting enough fluids, best assessed by a good amount of clear to light yellow urine, I would not stress over it,” agrees Dr. Berger.
When introducing water, especially after your child hasn’t wanted to drink it, Dr. Johns offers some advice: “When you introduce your baby to drinking from a sippy cup, try again. Continue to offer water, as many toddlers require multiple exposures to a new food or drink before accepting it.”
The key is to follow your child’s lead as they grow. “Be patient and don’t make it a big deal. Consider role modeling how wonderful your own water bottle is! Your child will pick up on your excitement and won’t want to miss out,” Dr. Johns continues.
As long as your baby is happy, healthy, and meeting a health care provider’s growth expectations, there’s no need to worry over their water consumption.