Until around 6 months, babies get all the hydration they need from breast milk or infant formula. After 6 months, babies can drink water alongside their regular milk feeds.
For the first 6 months of life, babies need only breast milk or infant formula, which provides all the nutrition and hydration they require.
At around 6 months, babies can have small amounts of water, but this should not replace milk feeds. Up to 1 year of age, babies’ primary nutrition should be from breast milk or formula.
This article explains what age babies can drink water and how to introduce it. It also discusses other drinks for babies.
When a baby is 6 months, caregivers can begin offering 4–8 ounces (oz) of water, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
This is also the time that babies can start eating solid foods. Many babies at this age can learn to grasp a sippy cup and bring it to their mouths. They also learn to sit up with support around this time.
Why wait until 6 months?
It is important to wait until a baby is 6 months before introducing water as they need all the nutrients in breast milk and formula. These sources also provide adequate hydration.
Providing water before 6 months may mean a baby drinks less breast milk or formula and misses out on important nutrients.
Learn about a 6-month-old feeding schedule.
In hot weather, a caregiver should offer more regular breast milk or formula feeds rather than water unless a doctor recommends it.
If the person producing breast milk drinks enough and stays hydrated, their milk will be more watery and hydrating for the baby.
If a baby produces 6–8 wet nappies in 24 hours, and their urine is pale, they are getting enough water.
For babies under 6 months, more frequent breast milk or formula feeds may help prevent dehydration during a fever.
The baby can have additional water if they are older than 6 months.
Caregivers should monitor how much fluid the baby is taking in and look out for symptoms of dehydration, which include:
- dry mouth and tongue
- crying without tears
- no wet diapers for 3 hours or more
- unusual sleepiness or drowsiness
- sunken eyes
Do not introduce water without talking with a doctor first.
Learn more about fever in babies.
Caregivers can introduce water into the baby’s diet with meals at about 6 months of age.
People may choose to boil and cool the water if they are concerned about the safety of the tap water, but this is not usually necessary. Caregivers can check with their public health department or pediatrician if they have questions about giving tap water to a baby.
At first, babies can try using a free-flowing cup or lidded beaker without a sip valve. This will help them learn to sip rather than suck. It is also better for their teeth. When the baby is ready, they can try using a cup with handles but no lid.
It may be difficult and messy initially, but it should get easier with practice.
Caregivers should only put water or milk in a cup without adding anything else, such as sugar, cereals, rice, or chocolate powder.
The CDC recommends that babies of 6–12 months drink only breast milk or formula and water. After 12 months, babies can drink whole cow’s milk or fortified soy drinks.
The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) recommends giving whole milk to children until they are at least 2 years as it contains important nutrients.
Other drinks caregivers can give children over 12 months include:
Drinks to avoid
The CDC and NHS recommend avoiding the following drinks:
- unpasteurized drinks
- sugar-sweetened drinks
- caffeinated drinks
- rice milk
- fruit juice and smoothies
Despite containing nutrients, fruit juices and smoothies contain naturally-occurring sugars and acids that can cause dental decay. From 5 years old, children can have about 150 milliliters of undiluted fruit juice or smoothie daily.
For the first 6 months of life, babies’ nutrition should come solely from breast milk or infant formula. They get all the hydration they need from these sources.
During hot weather or when a baby has a fever, caregivers can offer more regular milk feeds, but water is unnecessary.
After 6 months, when a baby starts eating solid foods, caregivers can offer 4–8 oz tap water in a free-flowing cup alongside regular breast milk or formula feeds.
After 12 months, babies can drink whole cow’s milk or unsweetened, fortified milk alternatives alongside water. Unpasteurized or sugary drinks are not necessary for babies and young children. Sugary drinks contribute to tooth decay, and unpasteurized drinks may contain bacteria that can be harmful.