Up until now, you've probably been thinking about whether your little one is getting enough milk. If that’s you, then plenty of wet nappies is the best sign.
When do I need to start giving my baby water?
As a newborn, babies get all the fluid they need from breastmilk or formula. Until they are six months old, there is no need for your baby to drink anything but breastmilk or formula milk.
But, as you introduce solid foods, their appetite for milk starts to reduce. It's at this point that you can consider extra forms of hydration, especially as their activity levels increase.
Once they're six months old and you're introducing them to the wonderful world of weaning, you can offer them a small amount of water at mealtimes (tap or filtered is fine). They won’t need a lot, but those few sips alongside a meal will get them used to the taste, and also help them learn to drink from a cup.
Ideally, water should be the only alternative drink to breastmilk or formula your baby has when weaning. Its natural pH is good for a baby's oral and dental health, and it's the most natural form of hydration.
If you choose to offer them fruit juice, make sure it's diluted one part juice to 10 parts water, and remember to avoid hot drinks like tea or coffee, and other fizzy or sweet drinks that contain artificial sweeteners and lots of sugar.
What about milk?
Once they turn 12 months old, you may still be breastfeeding, but you can start to introduce your baby to full fat or whole cow's milk, or even pasteurised goat's and sheep's milk if you're feeling adventurous!
Semi-skimmed milk (1-2% fat) can be introduced from two years of age, but skimmed milk (less than 0.5% fat) isn't recommended until they're five.
Unsweetened oat, almond and soy alternatives are also an option as part of a healthy, balanced diet, but they're not ideal as a main drink unless under certain circumstances or when a healthcare professional such as a dietitian has recommended them. It's also important to look at their labels and nutrition facts panels to see if they've been fortified with nutrients like vitamin D, calcium and protein as these are really important for a baby's development.
It's important to note that babies and young children under five years old shouldn't be given rice drinks because of high levels of arsenic. Don't worry if your child has already had rice drinks, there's no immediate risk to them, but it's best to switch to a different kind of milk.
How much water should my baby drink?
When thinking about how much water your little one should be drinking, it’s important to note that water can come from foods as well as drinks.
Drinks account for about 80% of fluid intake. While food accounts for another 20%. Fruits, vegetables, and milk are all good food sources of water, so a diet rich in these can contribute a higher amount of fluid to the overall intake. The table below refers to the total intake which includes both food and drinks.
||Total Fluid Intake from Food & Drink Per Day (ml)
||The Equivalent in Cups Per Day
|6 – 12 Months
||800ml – 1,000ml
||Sips with meals
|1 – 2 Years
||1,100ml – 1,200ml
||3 – 4 Cups
|2 – 3 Years
||4 – 5 Cups
|4 – 8 Years
||5 – 6 Cups
What kind of bottle or cup is best to use?
Every baby is different, and they will soon let you know what they do and don’t like. However, there are some general principles that can help when choosing bottles and cups as they grow.
For milk, a baby bottle with a breast-like teat is best. This helps your baby form a natural latch and makes transition from breast to bottle smoother if you're breastfeeding.
Once they're old enough to introduce water, usually at around six months, consider a cup with handles (usually removable) and either a soft spout or straw. You'll probably want a non-spill valve, as learning to drink is pretty messy. By using a cup with a removable valve, your baby can practice free flow drinking, i.e. they don't have to suck. This uses different muscles and is good for their oral development.
Once they're around a year old, they're usually ready to move on from baby bottles altogether!
Your little one may already know if they prefer a spout or straw, or you could try a sports top bottle so they feel a little more grown up! Before long, they'll be happy drinking from an open cup!