Surprised? It's True.
"Um, I've never actually given her water," I said hesitantly.
"Well, I have to imagine she gets thirsty, don't you think?" her grandma said brightly.
But as it turns out, my instincts were right. Exclusively breastfed babies not only don't need water, but it may harm them.
What the experts say
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, breastfed babies should only have breast milk exclusively for about the first 6 months of life. The 6 month minimum rule comes from the current recommendation to hold off on introducing solids to babies until the baby is about 6 months old. The age is an approximation, as some babies will not be interested in solids until later — for instance, none of my children showed a real interest in solid foods until about 7 months of age, which is totally fine.
Once solid foods are introduced, water can also be introduced in small quantities into the baby's diet, but you may want to check with your pediatrician to determine what type of water is best for your baby—tap, bottled or filtered.
Breast milk is enough
Although water can be given with meals of solid foods, you may be surprised to know that technically, breast milk is all that your child needs. It is simply complete nutrition. It's natural to offer a baby water with meals, but if you have pumped milk, you can offer breast milk with meals as well.
Until your baby is ready for solid foods, however, just remember that breast milk is all your baby needs. And because formula is made with water or mixed with water, formula-fed babies do not need extra water either.
A word of caution
Not only do breastfed babies not need extra water, but the surprising truth is that giving babies under 6 months of age water can actually harm them.
First of all, excess water may fill your little one's stomach up and cause her to miss out on vital nutrients from her regular feedings. And if the water doses continue (from well-meaning caregivers or family members), your little one might actually replace feedings with the water and cause your milk supply to diminish.
Furthermore, most people would naturally give a baby the water that they would normally drink, but even the most "clean" of water has microorganisms, minerals and other substances that aren't normally part of a baby's diet. Introducing those items, even from water, may upset her stomach and the delicate flora — the unique, good bacteria that lines her stomach — that keeps her healthy.
In extreme cases, if the water given is very excessive, your baby may even develop electrolyte imbalance and become very ill.
If you are exclusively breastfeeding, have faith that you — and your milk — are all that your baby needs until solid food is introduced.