Fort Worth, Texas,
01
October
2015
|
02:53 PM
America/Chicago

The deadly reason you should never give your baby extra water

Never dilute breast milk, formula with water

Desperation or neglect, whatever the reason the story is devastating.

In the wake a baby is dead and her mom has been charged with her murder. In addition, the baby’s dad has been charged with aggravated battery and cruelty to a child for diluting their baby’s breast milk with water, then refusing to take the child for medical care.

By the time they did take her to the hospital, she was already dead.

Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. I remember a similar case from years ago in which a child’s family was desperate for money and thought they could use extra water to make their formula last longer. In a study from Clinical Pediatrics, up to 25 percent of families considered “food-insecure” admitted to using various methods to make their formula last longer.

The problem is that extra water is not safe for babies. It causes the sodium level in their blood to drop. Low sodium will lead to brain swelling which can cause poor feeding, lethargy, seizure and eventually death.

Giving free water to babies is not just an issue of formula stretching. Families commonly ask during the summer months if their babies need extra water due to the heat. The answer is NO!

Some reasons babies don’t need water:

  • Breast milk and formula is mostly water (80-90 percent). Babies don’t get thirsty. Their diet is primarily liquid.
  • Water does not have nutrition or electrolytes babies need. If a baby is going to be drinking something, why not make it be something that can help them grow?

Babies can safely start to drink some water after six months but they still don’t need a lot. They can get one to three ounces during their meals if parents want to introduce and practice with a sippy cup.

About the author

Justin Smith, M.D., is a Cook Children's pediatrician. View more from The Doc Smitty at his Facebook page.He attended University of Texas, Southwestern Medical School and did his pediatric training at Baylor College of Medicine. He joins Cook Children's after practicing in his hometown of Abilene for four years. He has a particular interest in development, behavior and care for children struggling with obesity. In his spare time, he enjoys playing with his 3 young children, exercising, reading and writing about parenting and pediatric health issues.

Comments 1 - 10 (10)
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Vicky
06
May
2017
I never diluted my sons formula, however I would give him a small amount of just plain water every so often. It didnt hurt him. He weighed 11 pounds at birth, and now some 41,years later he is 6'4, and weighs about 250.
Diane
11
February
2017
Just saying, "This is crazy" Just something to stir up "the waters" . More news to put fear in parents. Why would a mother want to dilute breast milk. Years ago babies (probably not infants) were given water and they loved it. The powder formula was mixed with water per the instructions.









Donna
01
October
2015
I was a volunteer in the nursery several years ago and I was told to give the newborns water. This is very disturbing because I never imagined it could be harmful to them.
Dodie Hagadorn
01
October
2015
I was told 53 yrs ago after my baby was over 2 mths to give him a 1/2 ounce of water daily then as he grew older taking more milk to increase to 1 ounce. I did this with all 5 of my children and the grand kids were raised the same way. I never had a constipated baby, when other mothers did. My kids gained normal weight and were healthy. Common sense goes a long way. Especially if Dr and hospitals stress to the new mothers the milk/formula is their nutrition and not just to keep them from crying. We need more info given to new mothers before they leave the hospital. Many young mothers living away from family have no one to instruct them. I do agree substituting water for milk/formula or diluting it is very harmful and should never be done. But that is completely different to a tiny amount of fresh water.
esther mullins
19
May
2015
I raised 3 children who are now 53, 52 and 43. The formula they had was water, canned evaporated milk and a small amount of syrup. In between feedings they gotwater in their bottle. This was what the doctor recommended. I know things have changed a lot in the past 50 years but, just wanted to say they all grew up with no ill effects.
Doc Smitty
18
May
2015
Hello Courtney,There may be specific instances when a doctor would recommend water but it should never be given without consulting your pediatrician.Thank you,Justin Smith, M.D.
Christina
17
May
2015
Never say never. My Cook Children's network pediatrician recommended that we add a certain amount of water to our baby's formula as she suffered from serious constipation. The water did the trick, and it relieved her suffering. Understood that the primary focus of the article is that parents should not add water for economic or financial reasons, but this article disserves both parents and pediatricians by saying "never."
Sandy
12
May
2015
What about toddlers? Is there a danger with too much water for an 18 month old? I have an 18 month old that drinks ALOT - she pees ALOT as well. We give her about 1-2 oz of juice with about 8 oz of water. She will drink 5-6 sippy cups full thru the day. She also drinks Almond Milk (due to milk allergies) about 2 sippy cups a day. Her PCP doesn't seem to have any concern about but after reading this article it makes me curious. I know sometimes extreme thirst and frequent urination can be a sign of diabetes -- but since the PCP was not concerned she was not tested.
Bailey
06
May
2015
Thank you for stating this! I am in nursing school, and I never really understood the danger of giving water to babies. I also didn't realize it is something that common. This will help with my patient teaching when I am a nurse!
Courtney
06
May
2015
Thank you! With my first child I was unfortunately not with the cooks network, the pediatrician I went to was apparently having a bad day and told me she was borderline obese and I needed to instead of breastfeeding, give her water every other feeding, after calming down I ignored her(my child was only a month and a half old and had come out 9lbs 6 oz) she's now a bean pole 3 year old. Thank you for putting this out there.