Written by Rhiannon Lambert, Registered Nutritionist for Little Freddie and mum-of-two.
Weaning is of course a very exciting time for your little ones with the introduction of new foods, textures & flavours, as well as a mealtime routine, but we mustn’t forget the hydration element too!
Why is hydration important?
Hydration is incredibly important as water is essential for pretty much every single reaction in the body that allows us to function properly. We need water to help regulate our mood, productivity and concentration, as well as our body temperature and to filter out any waste products. For little ones it’s of particular importance as their bodies don’t recognise that they are thirsty and so are at a great risk of becoming dehydrated, which can cause dryness in the mouth, dark yellow urine, and leave children feeling tired, dizzy, and unable to concentrate/focus. Persistently not getting enough water can also lead to constipation, which can lead to upset tummies and affect appetite.
When can babies drink water?
Up until the age of 6 months, for exclusively breast-fed children breast milk is the only form of food and drink they need, as it provides all the hydration and nutrition needed for growth and development at this stage. Children who are formula-fed also receive adequate nutrition and hydration during the first 6 months from infant formula milk, however, you may need to increase the amount of water you give them during hot weather. In the UK, from the age of 6 months tap water is safe to drink, but before 6 months if offered extra, then always use boiled and cooled tap water. Always double check the water recommendations about drinking water if you are going abroad as it may not always be safe to drink! Bottle water in excess may not be beneficial as it can have a higher mineral content than required.
When babies reach 6 months and begin weaning, you may want to offer your baby water to sip from an open cup alongside their meals, don’t be afraid of the spills, it’s normal and takes time.
Drinking water is a skill that your child will need to learn when they start weaning to help keep them hydrated, which we know is super important for optimal health. Teaching them to sip water rather than suck it through a valved straw helps them to develop important motor skills, independence at mealtimes, and ultimately helps protect little teeth too. Younger babies should only be drinking water. Age 5 is a great time for fruit juice but if doing it before make sure you dilute it with water. A small glass of fruit juice is 150ml a day - most shop bought items are often more so be mindful of portions. Juice is best drunk straight from the cup and not through a straw to help reduce the contact time between the drink and little growing teeth, tooth decay is rising in the UK.
How much water does my baby need?
There are currently no specific recommendations in the UK for how much water can be given to infants aged between 6 and 12 months, but countries like America have recommended to offer a total of 4-8 ounces (approx. 110-220ml) of water per day.
Top hydrating foods
In addition to drinking water, around 20-30% of our daily fluid intake comes from the food we eat. Here are some of my top foods to include for hydration:
Other types of hydration
Whilst sugary drinks and hot drinks such as tea and coffee aren’t recommended for babies and young children to protect their mouths and teeth, there are also other drinks that can be offered alongside water.
This can be added to meals from the age of 6 months, however, it should not be offered as a drink until children reach the age of 1 years old. Whole milk is recommended until the age of 2 years old due to the extra fat content needed for energy and the essential vitamins and minerals. Semi-skimmed can be offered from 2 years of age as long as your child follows a healthy, balanced, and varied diet too. If you do not consume dairy then plant based alternatives such as soy or pea m*lk must be fortified with calcium, iodine, vitamin B12, and vitamin D.
Breast milk and infant formula
When starting to wean, babies will not be on 3 meals a day so it’s crucial to keep offering breast milk or infant formula to ensure they’re getting the nutrients they need, as well as maintaining hydration levels too!
Soya milk and other milk drink alternatives
If your child is dairy-free, then unsweetened calcium fortified milk alternatives such as soya, nut, or oat milks are good alternatives and can be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet from the age of 1 years old.
Rice milks, however, are not recommended by the NHS to children under the age of 5 due to the arsenic content that is often found in these drinks. Whilst there is no immediate risk to your child, owing to the strict safe levels of arsenic that are allowed in these products it’s best to choose an alternative to rice and rice products to be on the safe side.
Fruit juices and smoothies
These often get a bad rap for their sugar contents. Whilst they do contain free sugars, fruit juices and smoothies can be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet, however, they are not recommended to children under the age of 12 months at all and should only really be given at mealtimes to help offset the risk of tooth decay. If you offer your child juices or squash, always dilute it so it’s one part juice/squash to 10 parts water. Try to keep consumption to less than 150ml per day.
Remember hydration is key for keeping little bodies functioning and developing optimally, so always offer water alongside meals and throughout the day, as well as keep an eye out for signs of dehydration too. If you're concerned about your child’s fluid intakes then please consult a specialist paediatric dietitian or your GP for further guidance and support.