Should you give water to a newborn?

A recent article on Yahoo UK has given mums a bit of a panic. In it, pharmacist Abbas Kanani has suggested that women should be careful about giving their newborn babies water, as it can result in a severe medical condition – hyponatremia. This condition is the result of over-dilution of sodium in the body which can cause brain swelling, seizures and – in rare cases – death.

So the Maternity Nurse Company team thought this would be a good time to explore how to ensure your newborn is adequately hydrated.

Does my newborn need to drink water?

The answer is no. A baby under six months has a body composition that is 75% water, unlike adult bodies which are around 55% water. Giving your baby too much water can upset the balance of her body.

How do I know my baby is properly hydrated?

It’s a real concern for many new mums, especially in hot summers or when we’ve got the central heating cranked up in winter. For breastfeeding mothers it’s straightforward – breastmilk provides enough water for any baby until they start on solids at around six months. Bottle-fed babies may need some extra water in hot weather, but you should never dilute your baby’s powdered milk further than suggested as this can, again, affect the balance of electrolytes in your little one’s body.

The test for hydration in a baby up to six months is simple. Count the nappies! For a baby between a week old and six months, you should be getting at least six wet nappies a day. And that’s properly wet and heavy, not just a bit damp. One of our most experienced maternity nurse candidates has a clever trick. In hot weather she literally labels each day’s nappies from 1 – 6 with a permanent marker and notes the time of day when nappy number six is changed. If it’s after 8pm then it’s time to call the doctor, but she’s never had an experience where that sixth nappy wasn’t used by six in the evening. It’s a good tip for new mums, who are unlikely to be that great at holding information like nappy usage in their heads, given the combination of baby brain and lack of sleep.

This can be an easier way to monitor your newborn’s hydration than looking for the early clinical indicators such as fewer bowel movements, irritability or sleepiness, which are almost impossible for the average parent to evaluate, especially as any baby is likely to have irritable days and sleepy ones, and the bowel grows and develops as baby does, meaning that there are inevitably changes in baby’s ‘performance’.

Why is giving newborns water such a bad idea?

The first thing to be clear about is that the extreme results such as seizures are very rare. However, because a newborn has such a small tummy, water can fill it very easily, suggesting to the baby that she is full, and therefore stopping them taking in essential nutrients such as calcium, iron and zinc, which are carefully balanced in formula milk and naturally provided by breast milk. Keep the water for yourself and both you and baby will be happy and healthy.


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