Everyone knows it’s important to stay well hydrated, and water is the optimal fluid to drink especially during hot weather. Oxytocin released during breastfeeding also triggers a mother’s thirst reflex, reminding her to drink plenty in order to make adequate amounts of breastmilk for her baby. Breastmilk contains the perfect balance of nutrition and water to meet baby’s needs, and babies will naturally feed more frequently in hot weather to meet their own thirst and hunger requirements. The breastmilk provides thirst-quenching fast flowing, low fat milk at the beginning of each breastfeed, and babies will often seek frequent short feeds during hot weather to satisfy their thirst. Longer feeds will provide more of the fatty hindmilk which helps baby to feel satisfied, settle and sleep.
Following baby’s cues and feeding according to his changing needs will meet his nutritional requirements for optimal growth and development. Scheduled feeding routines or efforts to stretch baby longer between feeds interrupt these natural responses seriously reducing baby’s overall intake, and also impact on the mother’s breastmilk supply which is determined by appropriate responses to baby’s feeding cues.
Exclusively breastfed babies do not need additional water. If a fully breastfed baby is given extra water it fills baby’s tummy with ZERO nutrition and is likely to reduce his overall intake of breastmilk. Breastmilk should never be diluted with water to be given by bottle. Babies who receive excessive water are at risk of water intoxication, which leads to dangerously low sodium and electrolyte levels which can result in serious medical problems, like brain damage, seizures and death.
Diluting infant formula with extra water also reduces the amount of critical nutrients a baby receives in each serving. Symptoms of the condition include irritability, sleepiness, a drop in body temperature, fluid retention, and seizures which are caused by a rapid decrease in serum (blood) sodium levels. Infants fed excessive water will not receive adequate calories to meet their needs for growth and development.
Formula fed babies can be offered small amounts of water (20-30mls) between feedings in hot weather if they appear thirsty or have a dry mouth or skin, however powdered infant formula should always be made up according to the directions on the tin. Older babies who are also having solids and family foods do need water as a regular component of their diet, and extra sips of water to quench their thirst especially during hot weather. It’s a good practice to offer older babies who are also being breastfed a little water after eating solids to cleanse the mouth of food particles before offering a breastfeed because the saliva can be irritant to the mother’s breast tissue if their mouth has not been rinsed.