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Keeping baby cool in the heat: Do breastfed babies need water in hot weather?

“Our baby has just started nursing so much more. She just went through a growth spurt and she’s not showing any signs of teething yet. We don’t know what the problem is.”

A couple with a four-month-old baby was in the store the other day. They had some concerns about breastfeeding and asked to speak with me about it as I’m a Certified Lactation Consultant.

There are many reasons for increased nursing besides growth spurts and teething.

When I am asked a breastfeeding question I always ask the parents a few questions to get a sense of what may be going on.

  • Is the baby showing signs of pain or discomfort?
  • Has she been ill recently?
  • Is the mom in any discomfort when nursing?
  • How’s the baby’s weight gain?
  • What’s happening with pees and poops?
  • Has she started sleeping more at night  (yes, that does happen sometimes! Babies will naturally nurse more during the day.)
  • Has there been a change in routine?
  • Have you started going out more?
  • Have you been travelling?
  • Have you had visitors?
  • Is she nursing more frequently for shorter spurts because she’s distracted and wants to see what’s going on?

In this particular case, none of the above seemed to be the issue. Looking at their baby, she looked healthy, happy and well fed.

“Hi!” I said. Their baby, happily tucked into her Ergo carrier, whirled her head around to see who was there. She gave me a great big luscious baby smile.

“Well”, I said, “There’s one very probable explanation. It’s really hot out, and she is instinctively nursing more to keep herself well hydrated. I’d say she’s one smart kid.”

“Wow! Right! That makes perfect sense,” replied the mother.  “We’ve been drinking more as well. Should we be giving her water too?”

As a Lactation Consultant, I get asked fairly often if a baby should be given water.

Many parents are told by well-meaning grandparents that their baby needs water (because that’s what they were told to do with their children.)

If the grandparents were formula feeding they might have been right.

Some pediatric specialists believe that formula-fed babies may need more water in the heat because formula has a higher concentration of solutes (Renal solute load represents the amount of waste products excreted by the kidneys) and formula does not offer enough fluid to flush the solute when it is very hot. If you are formula feeding, speak with your healthcare provider for advice.

But getting back to the question as to whether their breastfed baby needed water during the intense heat spell we were experiencing…

“Definitely not,” I said.

Here are the facts about water and breastfeeding babies.

  • Breastmilk is 88% water and supplies all the fluids your baby needs
  • Extensive research worldwide, including in the hottest and driest of climates, has found that exclusively breastfed babies are adequately hydrated and do not require additional water as long as they are allowed to nurse freely. Don’t try to limit your baby’s nursing when it is hot!
  • Giving water cuts down on the infant’s consumption of breastmilk and all the healthful nutrition and antibodies that it provides. Water has no nutritional value.
  • Giving water can also cut down on the mother’s milk supply. Less stimulation of the breast results in less milk production.
  • Giving water to a newborn (less than four or five weeks old) is actually risky. It can cause weight loss or slow weight gain.
  • Giving water to ‘brand new’ newborns can result in jaundice and excessive weight loss.
  • Giving too much water to babies under nine months can result in water intoxication.

Pediatricians differ on the appropriate age to introduce water to babies. Some say after six months and solids have been started, some say nine months. Some say an occasional ounce after four months is okay, but not at all necessary. All agree that juice should not be introduced until after 12 months.

The research on breastfed babies’ need for water is extensive, cross-cultural, international, and extraordinarily solid.

Every well-designed study has indicated that breastfed babies do not need additional water in hot weather as long as you let them nurse whenever they want.

You will probably find that in hot weather babies will often want to have more frequent shorter feedings.

And guess what? This feeding pattern provides your baby with more of the watery foremilk, which keeps your baby more hydrated (another one of Mother Nature’s smart moves!)

So in the hot weather, if your breastfed baby wants to nurse a lot more often, be sure to follow their lead.

And don’t forget about you. If you get more thirsty, you can have as much water as you want!

Judy Banfield

I’m Judy Banfield and I’m here to help you feel better about yourself as a person and more confident and secure as a parent.

In my 30+ years of working with babies, young children and parents, I have learned that valuing and treasuring and deeply knowing yourself gives you the foundation to more confidently and joyfully, love, treasure, teach and guide your children.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. I agree in general, but I just wanted to add one more thing that could be different. Breastmilk is hot. On a hot day – sometimes a baby would want cold water. Or at least cooler milk. And maybe neither the mother nor the baby want to snuggle so much. Because it’s so hot, and both are sweating.
    So I think one needs to be aware of it. If the baby is feeding less (and we’re not talking about a newborn), then maybe pump some milk and cool it a bit, or hold a cool towel over your body or over the baby’s body, to feel more comfortable. I don’t even know if it’s a thing – but maybe put some cold ice on the breast, so the breastmilk comes out a bit colder. I think the cold packs will probably create less flow, but… If the child is not feeling well with the warm milk (heck, I don’t feel like eating on a hot day, especially not drinking a hot soup!), maybe it’s worth it to try that.
    I’m not certified anything, so don’t do anything that I said without consultation and following up, but it’s important to remember that the heat doesn’t affect just the thirst, it also affects other aspects of food / hunger / digestion.

    All the best and thanks for another lovely post!

    Miriam

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