Up until around 6 months, your baby has been completely reliant on breast milk or formula for all of their needs. Then you get the all clear from the pediatrician to introduce solids and water, but how do you actually do it? And how much water does your baby actually need?
Luckily, not very much at first. We recommend introducing water around 6 months to give your baby plenty of time to practice before they really need to be drinking it for hydration. Want to learn more? I have an entire module on water in my Starting Solids Made Easy Course.
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Because babies don’t need much water at 6 months, it makes the perfect opportunity to practice with an open cup or a straw cup. They will probably need a lot of assistance and may not get much water, but that’s ok! There are many baby cups available on the market, but you can also start with what you have. Something simple like a bottle cap or a plastic shot glass both work great.
Straw cups are great options as well. They make great on-the-go choices, because they often spill less than an open cup. Some cups will have valves inside, making them harder to suck, but less likely to spill. Shorter straws are generally easier for babies to get the appropriate mouth shape.
Sippy cups are generally not recommended anymore. They probably won’t cause a lot of lasting harm if you use them, but they will be one more thing that you will need to wean. If you don’t already have them in the house, I would recommend not purchasing them.
Choosing an Open Cup
Look for a cup that is small, so that it will be easier for your baby to control. Clear cups are nice, because you and your baby will be able to see the water as you tip the cup back. Some cups are weighted at the bottom to help prevent spills, but a determined baby can knock over almost any cup. Your baby will most likely drop the cup multiple times, so avoid a material that is easily broken.
Choosing a Straw Cup
Cups without valves will be easier for your baby to use, but will also not be spill-proof. If you’re using the cup primarily on the go, you may want to look for a cup that can prevent spills. Cups like these honeybear cups (affiliate link) are great for training babies on how to use straws, although any cup that has a bit of squeeze can work.
Teaching Baby to Drink
Whether you’re using an open cup or a straw cup, your baby will probably need your help for a little while. At the beginning, just offer water at mealtimes when you are already supervising and helping your child (remember: they really don’t need much water at the beginning).
Teaching with an Open Cup
Encourage your baby to grab the cup with their hands. Help them guide it to their face. Tip the cup back slowly and pour the water into their mouth for 1-2 seconds. Remove the cup from their face. They may be surprised or confused at first. Continue practicing this until your child is able to drink it on their own.
Using a clear cup can be easier on you as the parent, because you can see the water line. If you don’t have a clear cup, using a cup that is full can be easier, because it requires you or your baby to tip the cup back less. When they spill (because it will happen), it will be messier with a full cup, so using smaller cups can minimize the spill.
Teaching with a Straw Cup
There are 2 main methods I’ve seen commonly used to teach a baby to drink from a straw. In both cases, you are placing some water in their mouth and encouraging them to place their lips on the straw.
Method 1: Pipette
Place a straw in water and put your finger over one end. This should store some water in the straw. Place the other end of the straw into your baby’s mouth. When they close their lips around the straw, release some water. Repeat this until they get the idea that they should immediately close their lips around the straw and suck.
Method 2: Honey Bear
This method is most commonly used with the honey bear cups linked above, but can be used with other cups as well. With this method, you need to be able to squeeze the cup and have water come out of the straw. You’ll place the straw near your baby’s mouth. When they close their lips around the straw, you give a slight squeeze to squirt some water into their mouth. You can repeat this until they get the idea to suck on the straw themselves.
How Much Water Does My Baby Need?
Before 6 months, babies don’t need any water. Formula or breastmilk should be meeting their hydration (that’s why sometimes breastmilk looks watery – to help keep your baby hydrated!). Between 6-12 months, they need less than 8 ounces per day. Between 1-3 years, they need 8-24 ounces per day. A good rule of thumb for toddlers is 8 ounces/year of age.
Once your baby is over a year of age, you can offer water throughout the day. Toddlers generally need to be reminded to drink regularly. Finding a fun cup or water bottle can encourage intake. For most kids, we want the majority of their fluids to be water, not juice or milk. You can monitor their urine to see their hydration status. If you’re having trouble getting your child to drink water, you can also offer hydrating foods such as watermelon, pineapple, or cucumber.
|< 6 months||none||breast milk or formula should meet fluid needs|
|6-12 months||< 8 ounces||breast milk or formula should still make up most of their fluid intake|
|1-3 years||8-24 ounces||~8 ounces/year of age, offer in an open cup or a straw cup, monitor urine for hydration status, you may need to remind your toddler to drink|
Krystyn Parks is a Registered Dietitian and Lactation Consultant who specializes in feeding children. She has a Master’s Degree in Nutritional Science from California State University Long Beach. She is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and has been registered with the Commission on Dietetic Registration since 2013.