Giving Baby Water or Juice
Just as adults are advised to drink at least 1.5 litres of water every day, it is vitally important to ensure that your baby is kept well hydrated, especially in warmer weather or if he or she is poorly. Drinking plenty of fluid is essential to keeping babies and young children healthy and to make sure their little bodies work as they should. Dehydration can be very serious for babies, but unfortunately, the common signs of dehydration - fewer than six wet nappies in 24 hours; dark yellow urine; dry mouth, sunken fontanelle etc - are signs that a baby is already dehydrated and needs medical help.
Keeping Your Baby Hydrated
Babies under six months, who are breastfed and not weaned, are not likely to need any additional fluids, especially if mum is feeding on demand. Breast milk contains fore milk (a thin fluid which is a great thirst-quencher) and hind milk (which comes later on in the feed and quells baby's hunger). If the weather is hot, or if your baby is poorly, offer him or her breast milk more often - or whenever they ask for it - whether it's for comfort or to quench their thirst. And, of course, if you are breastfeeding your baby, make sure that you stay thoroughly hydrated yourself by drinking lots of water throughout the day and especially during feeds.
Formula or bottle-fed babies may need a drink of water occasionally. If he or she seems more thirsty than usual, offer a drink of water from a cup or bottle. For babies under six months old, tap water is fine BUT it should be boiled first and cooled to a suitable temperature before being offered to your baby.
For babies over six months, whether they are breast fed, bottle fed or weaned, you can offer water straight from the tap, no need to boil first. Bottled water however, can be high in sodium and other minerals which are dangerous for youngsters. Try to steer clear of these, unless you are traveling abroad.
If your little one has been constipated, extra liquid can help her to 'go'. Again, try cooled, boiled water initially and speak to your Health Visitor or G.P. if this doesn't solve the problem they might advise you to add a dash of fruit juice to the boiled water. Likewise, if your baby has been poorly a drink of water will help to keep her hydrated along with her usual milk.
Be sure to only give your baby small sips of water at a time, to avoid the risk of filling up her tummy and replacing a milk feed.
Can I Use Fruit Juices and Squashes?
For babies over six months of age, diluted fruit juices can be offered as an alternative to water. However, this is not recommended by health professionals as these juices - even those aimed specifically at babies and toddlers - can be high in sugars which can cause tooth decay.
If you do decide to give your baby fruit juice, make sure it is well diluted (10 parts water to 1 part juice) and try to offer it only at mealtimes. Never give your baby juice drinks in a bottle as this means the sugars in the juice have prolonged contact with teeth and can contribute to tooth decay. Always use a beaker or spouted cup for juice, and for milk over the age of one wherever possible. Fresh fruit should always be offered over fruit juice as it contains the same nutrients as juice but is packed with fibre too. Squash and fizzy drinks shouldn't be given to babies and young children at all as they contain added sugar and/or artificial sweeteners and other additives and can be very acidic, bad for teeth and can help contribute to weight gain.
For optimum health, the ideal drink for babies and toddlers is milk (whether breast or bottle) and water in warmer weather or if your bottle-fed baby seems hungrier or thirstier than usual. Older babies will definitely need extra fluid in warmer weather and once they have started eating solid foods. Try not to offer juice to young babies unless advised to by a health professional, for example to try to combat constipation. If you have any reason to believe that your baby is dehydrated, make an urgent appointment to see your G.P. or other health professional.