Paediatric experts have warned mothers to desist from giving water to fully breastfed babies.
According to the experts, it can cause a medical condition known as ‘newborn water intoxication’ and also overburden their developing stomachs.
They also said all the nutrients required to nurture an infant are contained in breast milk, adding that it is the only natural fluid appropriate for their development, especially when under six months.
Furthermore, the experts said water can lead to hyponatremia (when sodium level in the blood is below normal), and that such development will disturb normal gastrointestinal maintenance in a baby’s body.
Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise, a Consultant Paediatrician at the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, Dr. Olayinka Ibrahim, said giving water to babies less than six months old can impact their ability to absorb proteins, vitamins, and other nutrients provided by breast milk.
He maintained that water provides no nutritional benefits to a baby and would only increase the risk of contamination, which may lead to diarrhoea.
Dr. Ibrahim further said that water also has no electrolytes and nutrients, crucial for development in the first six months of a baby’s life.
“For clarity, babies should be given only breast milk in the first six months of life and not water. If you feel they are tasty, give breast milk only. Breast milk is made up of 70 per cent water.
“Water is of no benefit to a baby. It will disturb normal gastrointestinal maintenance and increase the risk of contamination, which can predispose the child to other diseases.
“The basic components of breast milk include water include – almost 90%, protein 1%, lipid 4% and the rest, carbohydrates. This is more than enough to supply water and nutrients needed in the first six months of life.
“Giving water before six months will distort the basic physiology of a newborn gastrointestinal system and this may lead to problems. Giving water could lead to intoxication, especially if given in a large volume. With the absorption of free water and subsequent low electrolytes such as sodium ( one of the key biochemicals in the human body for normal functioning), there may be convulsions or seizures, and brain swelling, which can ultimately lead to death if not well treated or attended to in time.
“Besides, if water becomes contaminated, infections such as acute diarrhoea could result in the baby becoming rapidly dehydrated and this could possibly lead to fatal outcomes.”
Also speaking on the dangers posed by water to infants, a Consultant Paediatrician at the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital Complex, Ile-Ife, Professor John Okeniyi, said exclusive breastfeeding is best for babies less than six months, adding that it also reduces the risk of infections.
While noting that water intoxication in rare cases can cause brain swelling and death, he stressed that breast milk contains well-known ant-infection properties. He said:
“Exclusive breastfeeding is best for infants less than six months. They get all their nutritive and fluid support from their mother’s breast milk in adequate amounts without the risk of getting infections.
“In summary, infants from birth to the age of six months are expected to feed exclusively on their mothers’ breast milk. This is rich enough in water and all nutrients required for their growth and development.
“Breast milk also contains well-known anti-infection properties thus, infants are less likely to contract diarrhoeal diseases. Breastfeeding is expected to continue to the age of at least two years, with a gradual introduction of solid foods and water from the age of six months.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Health, Orange County, California, United States, in a report recommended that babies should drink only breast milk or formula, not water until they get to six months.
AAP in the report noted that at the six-month mark, babies can be introduced to water in “an open, sippy, or strawed cup.”
“Babies only need about 4-8 ounces of water per day until they are one-year-old because the rest of their liquid intake is still coming from breast milk or formula.
“Giving babies under one, more than the recommended daily amount of water can lead to a dangerous condition called water intoxication (also called hyponatremia), especially if they are less than nine months old.”
According to St. Louis Children’s Hospital, Missouri, also in the United States, drinking too much water can dilute a baby’s normal sodium level and can lead to seizures, coma, brain damage, and death.
The health facility also confirmed that diluting or adding extra water to formula can also lead to water intoxication by reducing the nutrients needed by the baby, adding that this can slow growth and development, and lead to serious health problems. The hospital stated:
“Breast milk or formula provides all the fluid healthy babies need. If a mother feels her baby needs to take additional water, it should be limited to two to three ounces at a time and should be offered only after the baby has satisfied his hunger with breastfeeding or formula.”
The World Health Organisation also stressed the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for six months in a report published on its website, titled, ‘Infant and young child feeding’.
The global health body noted that exclusive breastfeeding can help to protect against gastrointestinal infections, which has been observed not only in developing countries but also in industrialized ones.
WHO added that breast milk is also an important source of energy and nutrients in children aged 6–23 months, noting that it can provide half or more of a child’s energy needs within that age.
“Breast milk is also a critical source of energy and nutrients during illness, and reduces mortality among children who are malnourished. Children and adolescents who were breastfed as babies are less likely to be overweight or obese.
“Additionally, they perform better on intelligence tests and have higher school attendance. Breastfeeding is associated with higher income in adult life. Improving child development and reducing health costs results in economic gains for individual families as well as at the national level.
“Longer durations of breastfeeding also contribute to the health and well-being of mothers. It reduces the risk of ovarian and breast cancer and helps space pregnancies. Exclusive breastfeeding of babies under 6 months has a hormonal effect which often induces a lack of menstruation. This is a natural (though not fail-safe) method of birth control known as the Lactation Amenorrhoea Method,”