Why can’t we give water to a breastfeeding baby before the 6 months, even when it is hot?

Online Q&A
July 2014

Q: Why can’t we give water to a breastfeeding baby before the 6 months, even when it is hot?

A: Giving water to young babies puts them at risk of diarrhoea and malnutrition. Water may not be clean and cause the baby to have infections. Giving water may also cause the baby to drink less breastmilk or to stop breastfeeding early and therefore cause malnutrition. If mothers give water instead of breastfeeding it will also cause the mother to have less milk in the future.

Breast milk is more than 80% water, especially the first milk that comes with each feed. Therefore, whenever the mother feels her baby is thirsty she can breastfeed him or her. This will satisfy the bay’s thirst, and continue to protect the baby from infections, and help the baby to continue to grow well. Babies do not need water before they are 6 months old, even in a hot climate. This is one of the reasons that WHO recommends for children to be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life.

A child is considered exclusively breastfed when he or she receives only breast milk, without any additional food or liquid, even water, with the exception of oral rehydration solution, drops, syrups of vitamins, minerals or medicines. When breastfeeding, the mother gives her baby all the water he or she needs, while providing “safe water” and protecting the baby against diarrhoea.