This is why giving your newborn water to drink could be dangerous.

Drinking water is something we all do everyday. But what are the rules around giving a newborn water? You might be surprised to hear that not only do you not need to offer your baby water but it can be unsafe.

For all babies under six-months-old, giving water can dilute the sodium in the baby’s bloodstream to the point where a potentially life threatening condition known as “oral water intoxication” develops. This can lead to symptoms like low body temperature, bloating and seizures.

Giving water to newborns can further impact your baby’s weight gain and your milk supply. If you have a newborn, giving water fills your baby’s tummy which means they will drink less milk and potentially lose weight. It can also have a negative impact on establishing your milk supply.

In the early weeks after giving birth, you need to feed your baby often to calibrate your milk making potential – if you can get your supply up now, while your post birth hormones are influencing milk production (along with emptying your breasts), you will have a better long term supply and an easier time when these hormones are no longer supporting your milk production to the same extent.

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According to physicians at Johns Hopkins Children’s Centre in Baltimore, babies younger than six-months-old should never be given water to drink.

“Even when they’re very tiny, babies have an intact thirst reflex or a drive to drink,” Dr. Jennifer Anders, a paediatric emergency physician at the centre, told Reuters Health. “When they have that thirst and they want to drink, the fluid they need to drink more of is their breast milk or formula.”

As babies’ kidneys aren’t yet mature, giving them too much water causes their bodies to release sodium along with excess water, Anders said. Losing sodium can further impact brain activity. Early symptoms of water intoxication can include irritability, drowsiness and other mental changes. Other symptoms include low body temperature (generally 97 degrees or less), puffiness or swelling in the face and seizures.

“It’s a sneaky kind of a condition,” Anders said.

Early symptoms are subtle, so seizures may be the first symptom a parent notices. But if a child gets prompt medical attention the seizures will probably not have lasting consequences, she added.

Beyond the newborn stage, your baby still needs the calories and nutrition in milk for their growth and development. Water has none of these and again, will fill their tummy, possibly reducing their food intake and may impact your milk supply. If your baby has been drinking lots of water during the day, they may wake more at night to catch up on milk feeds because they are hungry.

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Water as a beverage should be completely off limits for babies six-months-old and younger, Anders and her colleagues say. Parents should also avoid using over-diluted formula, teas or paediatric drinks containing electrolytes.

Most importantly, respond to your baby’s feeding cues (smacking or licking his lips, opening and closing his mouth, sucking on his lips, tongue, hands or fingers and ‘rooting’ at your chest) and allow them to breastfeed as much as they need to quench their thirst.

Breastmilk is composed of 90 per cent water, and that provides all that your breastfed baby needs. If your baby is thirsty, they will regulate the amount and consistency of your breastmilk by feeding more often and taking in enough of the watery fore milk to satisfy their thirst, but not so much of the creamier hind milk if they are thirsty but not hungry – you can’t ‘over feed’ your breastfed baby. This means that your baby may seem to ‘snack’ as they feed frequently but for just a short time.

When your baby is around six-months-old and ready to try other foods, they may enjoy a few sips of water from a sippy cup and as they eat more family foods. A little water may help if he seems constipated. If your older baby doesn’t want to try water yet though, don’t worry, an extra breastfeed or several will give them all the water they need.

Meanwhile, make sure you maintain your milk supply by drinking plenty of fluids yourself – respect your own hunger and thirst signals and consider that tiredness can be an early sign of dehydration. So, watch your baby, not the clock, and make sure YOU drink water so your baby gets plenty to drink.

Pinky McKay is an internationally certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) and best-selling author of Sleeping Like a Baby, Parenting By Heart and 100 Ways to Calm the Crying (Penguin Random House). She is also the creator of Boobie bikkies all natural and organic health food cookies for breastfeeding mums.

A version of this post was originally published on Boobie Bikkies and has been republished here with full permission. Read the original article here.