Is Your Toddler Drinking Enough Water?

When they start dropping milk feeds and are fussy about their foods, your baby might not be getting enough fluid. So how do you know how much water should a toddler drink? - by Deborah Grunfeld

How much should a baby drink? 

Babies can begin to drink water, in small amounts, from six months old when they start solids. Drinking water before that age, or in place of their regular milk feeds, can be dangerous to babies.

From 7 months old to 11 months old, a baby should be getting most of their fluids from breastmilk or infant formula, and drinking a little water is more about learning good habits (and can be an aid to digesting those first solids).

After your toddler is 1 year old, till they are about 3 years old, they should be drinking about 1 litre per day, though some of that will come from milk and food. If they have been sick or doing lots of running around, give them a little more.

How much water should a 7-month-old drink? A few sips, now and again

What should babies and toddlers drink? And how much?

Before the age of six months, babies should ONLY have breastmilk or infant formula, unless advised by a medical professional.

From six months old, giving a spoonful of water or a few sips can help baby with the constipation that sometimes starts with the introduction of solids. It is also a good way to introduce your little ones to the taste of water, so they are more accepting of its neutral flavour when they are older and fussier.

As the baby moves from 7 months to 8 months, 9 months, and so on, gradually increase the amount and frequency of the water offered. Babies aged 10 months-plus may be able to hold a sippy cup or normal cup and drink water from that.

The important thing at this young stage is to make sure water doesn’t replace breastmilk or infant formula feeds, which are absolutely crucial to a baby’s development till at least 12 months old.

Once they are 1 years old, toddlers can regulate their own water intake. To make sure toddlers still get all the dairy they need to grow, some suggest to make milk the drink to go with meals and water the drink for other times, so milk is seen more as a food and water as more of a refreshing thirst quencher.

With regards to dairy, don't give toddlers under 1 cow’s milk as a drink, as their bodies can’t handle too much of the cow’s milk proteins. You can use a little in preparation of their food, though.

From 1 years old to 2 years old, you can give them cow’s milk in the place of a breast feed or formula, but only use full fat milk. From three year’s old you can give them any milk, but avoid flavoured milk as it is high in sugar.

Remember, the body can’t store water and babies and toddlers might not be able to tell you when they are thirsty, so make sure you offer them liquid often throughout the day. Try these suggestions for how to get your toddler to drink more water.

Learning to drink water from 11 months old is a good habit

What are the benefits of drinking water? 

1. Happy chappies

Keeping up the H20 in babies and toddlers has many health benefits, the most important of which is hydration. With enough fluid in its system, your little one will have more energy and be less irritable.

2. Good guts

Sufficient water helps eliminate toxins, making the child’s kidney work better and it helps to avoid or relieve constipation. 

3. Tough teeth

Most tap water in Australia has fluoride, which is essential for the development of strong bones and teeth.

4. The right choice

Getting in the habit of choosing water instead of juice or soft drinks has the benefit of reducing sugar intake, which can cause tooth decay, as well as avoiding unnecessary calories which leads to obesity and possibly diabetes.

Healthy Kids NSW writes, “Australian researchers found that children aged between 4 and 12 years who drank 500ml or more of fruit juice or cordial per day were twice as likely to be overweight or obese as children who consumed none.”

It is always better to have fresh fruit, rather than fruit juice, as you can’t eat as much fruit as you can drink juice – which is better for calorie control and GI levels – and you gain the added benefit of the fruit fibre, which you usually lose in juicing.

5. Hip pocket

And best of all, tap water is free!

Watch out for a dehydrated child

How to know if they aren't drinking enough.

“Unlike adults, toddlers may not recognize thirst early on and may not be able to adequately express the need for a drink to a parent,” says Healthy Eating. So get in there first, and try and get them in the habit of drinking regularly.

For a normal healthy child, First Cry parenting lists a range of signs that might show your toddler is not getting enough fluids.

- Your toddler should do 5-6 wees a day if they are getting enough fluid. The urine should be light coloured. If it is dark or has a strong smell, it’s a sign of dehydration.

- Also, if the child is having difficulty doing poos, try increasing their water intake, as constipation can be a sign of not enough fluids.

- If the child is lacking energy, or seems grumpy and out of sorts, they may be dehydrated.

- If your toddler just doesn’t look healthy – sunken eyes, flaky skin - or he cries without tears, it could be a sign that he is not getting enough water.

Also, use your common sense, if the weather is hot or they have been sitting in a heated room or running around a lot, try and encourage them to drink more. (Don’t forget, they may look cold when they get out of the pool, but they will have lost fluid while in the water. So a drink after a swim is always a good idea.)

Sickness can cause dehydration, so if your child (over the age of 1) has had temperature, vomiting or diarrhoea, tempt them with liquids – warm (not hot) honey and lemon tea or the treat of an ice block or that old remedy, chicken noodle soup – and depending on how sick they have been, you may need to seek medical advice about rehydration solutions. (Try the Hydralyte ice blocks, they seem the easiest form for for sick ones to cope with. And for children under the age of 1, always seek medical advice about what and how much fluid to give.)

If your child has been ill or is not their usual full-of-beans self, the Better Health website of Victoria advises you to look out for these serious physical signs of dehydration:

  • cold skin

  • lethargy

  • dry mouth

  • depressed fontanelle (the soft spot on top of a baby’s skull where the bones are yet to close)

  • a blue tinge to the skin as the circulation slows.

Please note, dehydration in babies and toddlers can come on quickly and in severe cases, can be fatal. If you suspect your child is suffering the above symptoms, seek urgent medical help from the hospital. You can also try your GP or calling Healthcare Direct on 1800 022 222.

Water baby = happy baby!

How does the recommended daily intake changes for different age groups?

Victoria’s Better Health site lists the following recommended daily fluid intake (including plain water, milk and other drinks) in litres per day:

  • infants 0–6 months – 0.7 l (from breastmilk or formula)

  • infants 7–12 months – 0.9 l (from breastmilk, formula and other foods and drinks)

  • children 1–3 years – 1.0 l (about 4 cups)

  • children 4–8 years – 1.2 l (about 5 cups)

  • girls 9–13 years – 1.4 l (about 5-6 cups)

  • boys 9–13 years – 1.6 l (about 6 cups)

  • girls 14–18 years – 1.6 l (about 6 cups)

  • boys 14–18 years – 1.9 l (about 7-8 cups)

  • women – 2.1 l (about 8 cups)

  • men – 2.6 l (about 10 cups).

The site continues to say that while liquid can be in any form of drink, it recommends "that the majority of intake is from plain water (except for infants where fluid intake is met by breastmilk or infant formula)."

On the other hand, What to Expect says if your toddler is not eating much, it may be because they are too full of liquids, so they suggest holding off drinks till the end of the meal if your 1 to 3-year-old won't eat. Also, “Bottle drinkers often overindulge in liquids because it's just so easy to do so. If you think your tot might be sipping too regularly, now's a good time to switch to a cup.”

But don't stress too much. “Even foods that do not look like they have moisture in them do contain water. The amount of water you can get from foods can make up to approximately 20 per cent of your daily requirements,” writes Healthy Kids.