Updated: Aug 10
The summer months are upon us and with this, most parents will worry at some stage that their baby may not be getting enough to drink in the hot weather. Here we clarify if, when and how much water is needed.
Young children are very susceptible to dehydration and heat stress. If they’re playing outdoors or in a car on a warm day, they can lose high volumes of fluid. Thirst is not always the best indicator of hydration and children should be offered fluid more regularly in the warmer weather, particularly if they are active.
Breast milk or infant formula is all that a baby needs for the first 6 months of life. No other drinks or foods are needed. A baby having infant formula may be given small amounts (a few tablespoons only) of water that has been boiled and cooled before six months of age, if extra fluid is recommended by your baby’s doctor or healthcare professional.
Your baby may show signs of wanting to feed more often but for shorter periods than usual which is normal – just like you are drinking more often too. If your baby has plenty of wet nappies (six or more per day), is experiencing consistent weight gain as monitored by your healthcare professional, good skin tone, and is thriving and active, these are good signs that your baby is getting enough milk.
Fewer wet nappies, dark-coloured urine that smells and an unhappy baby who is hot and dry to the touch are signs that your baby needs more milk.
Once your baby is over 6 months of age, small amounts of boiled, cooled tap water can be given in addition to breast milk or infant formula but should not replace their breast milk or formula feeds. You can give your baby small amounts of cooled boiled tap water from a cup as an additional drink, after or between milk feeds or when they are eating solids. Between 6-12 months, breast milk or infant formula should continue to be their main drink until at least 12 months of age.
Boiled and cooled tap water is best, especially as it contains fluoride, which helps protect children’s teeth against decay. Filters do not make water germ free. Bottled water should only be used in an emergency. Other drinks in the first 12 months are not recommended as it will stop your baby from getting enough essential nutrients.
After 12 months, you can give your toddler water straight from the tap. There’s no need to boil it anymore. When your toddler drinks plenty of water regularly throughout the day, they will stay hydrated. This is especially important in hot weather or when your child is running around a lot. Toddlers have enough skill to drink water from a cup and should not need to be fed with a bottle. Toddlers should be encouraged to drink around one litre of water per day (4-5 cups). Water should always be available and most children will enjoy water if they get into the habit of drinking it at an early age.
Tips to encourage your toddler to drink more water:
Role modelling is the best way to encourage toddlers to drink water. When your children see you doing it, they’re likely to do it too.
Remind and encourage children to drink water regularly throughout the day. Children don’t always feel thirsty even though they need to drink.
Always provide water at meal and snack times and offer water between meals and snacks.
Make sure that water is always available in both summer and winter, inside and outside.
Take filled water bottles when you go out with your child.
If your toddler does not like drinking water, try adding shaped ice cubes, or fruit slices for flavour, or serve it cold from the fridge in a special novelty water bottle.
1. National Health and Medical Research Council (2012) Infant Feeding Guidelines. Canberra.