Preventing Hyponatremia or Water Intoxication: Never Give a Baby Extra Water

Preventing Hyponatremia or Water Intoxication: Never Give a Baby Extra Water

As the weather grows warmer, have you considered giving your baby a little extra water to prevent dehydration? If your baby is less than a year old, stop! Giving a baby under twelve months old water can lead to serious health problems and even death.

Did you know that baby water safety is not just restricted to bathtubs and pools? Drinking water is a great way to stay hydrated, that is, unless you are under one year of age. Babies who are younger than twelve months old never need additional water to remain hydrated. Breast milk or formula is all than an infant needs. In fact, giving a young baby extra water can be deadly.

Babies who are younger than a year old should drink only breast milk or formula. (Juice is not recommended because juice is basically just flavored sugar water devoid of the nutrients of the whole fruits and vegetables and has been linked to tooth decay and obesity. Infants under the age of 1 should not drink any fruit juice, according to current recommendations.) Babies who are less than a year old should never be given water. Water, although healthy for older children and adults to drink, lacks the nutrients found in breast milk and formula. And, even though breast milk is best, formula is better than water.

Glass of WaterWhy is water so dangerous for young babies? Drinking too much plain water can lead to hyponatremia. More commonly referred to as water intoxication, hyponatremia occurs when an intake of too much water dilutes the levels of salt, or sodium, in the blood. Giving a baby too much water can dilute the level of sodium in the blood. Low sodium levels cause nearby cells to swell, which is generally not a problem except in the case of the brain cells. Because the skull encloses the brain, the swelling cells have no additional room to swell. Swelling in the brain can therefore lead to seizures, permanent brain damage, and even death. Other symptoms of hyponatremia include irritability or drowsiness, low body temperature, and swelling of the face.

Young babies are at an increased risk for hyponatremia because the limited number of foods in their diets makes replenishing lost sodium more difficult. Breastfed babies need breast milk and only breast milk until six months of age, after which parents can introduce complimentary foods. Babies who are not exclusively breastfed should have only properly prepared formula until six months of age. Formula-fed babies whose parents partake in formula stretching as a way to save money are also at risk for water intoxication. If you are going to feed your baby infant formula, never water down the mixture; always follow the water-to-formula directions on the packaging. According to Dr. Angela McGovern, M.D. from The Washington Hospital Center, Washington D.C.:

“There is no safe amount of free water for infants. Too much water can not only dilute the salts in the body putting infants at risk for seizures, it can make babies feel full without providing them any nutrition. For best health and nutrition in the first year of life, the only fluid an infant needs is breast milk or properly prepared formula.”

Symptoms of hyponatremia in babies include the following:

  • Irritability
  • Drowsiness
  • Low body temperature
  • Facial swelling
  • Seizures

Babies who are already dehydrated from vomiting or diarrhea are at an even greater risk for water intoxication when given extra water to help combat the dehydration. Too much water dilutes sodium levels, resulting in swelling of the brain. Juice can also cause gastrointestinal upset, worsening diarrhea and consequently worsening dehydration. Even a sick baby under the age of 1 should be given only breast milk or formula.

As the weather grows warmer, I am of course concerned about my daughter staying hydrated. However, instead of giving her any additional water and putting her at risk for hyponatremia, I simply make sure to offer her my breast milk more frequently. Nursing her as often as she needs and wants is the best way for me to make sure that she stays hydrated without risking water intoxication. As for formula fed babies, parents should also make sure to mix the proper amount of water with the formula mix. Adding too much water can also result in hyponatremia, so always follow the instructions for mixing on the package.

The message is clear: Never give a baby under the age of one extra water. Even a little bit of extra water can lead to seizures, brain damage, or death.

Were you aware that baby water safety included not giving infants under the age of one extra water?


Extra Water Can Be Harmful for Babies:
Fruit Juice in Infants, Children, and Adolescents: Current Recommendations:

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Preventing Hyponatremia or Water Intoxication: Never Give a Baby Extra Water: (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) and (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
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