A Closer Look into the Symptoms and Possible Causes of Infant Water Intoxication

For you and me, there's nothing better than plain, pure water to quench our thirst. In fact, we're even encouraged to drink at least eight glasses a day to stay healthy. But the same cannot be said for infants. It's of the utmost importance not to give plain water to children younger than six months. The water in breast milk or formula is all a baby needs to keep them hydrated. Any more than that increases their risk of water intoxication. 

What is Water Intoxication

Is there such a thing as too much water? Apparently, there is. Drinking too much water can dilute the electrolytes and sodium in the blood. This can lead to hyponatremia, a condition where the kidneys can't get rid of the excess water. The kidneys can expel up to 20-28 liters of water a day. But they can only process about 800-1000 ml per hour. 

Infants are more prone to this, but anyone can fall prey to this condition. In fact, a recent study suggests Bruce Lee died from overhydration.

But how much water is too much water?

Growing up, we've all been told to drink eight glasses of water every day. But nobody told us exactly how much water each glass should contain. Well, here's the thing. Different people have different fluid requirements. 

Men generally need 3.7 liters of water a day, while most women only need 2.7 liters. Athletes and manual laborers, on the other hand, may need more water due to the nature of their work. But you don't need to drink a specific amount of water every day. 


Most people meet their daily needs by drinking only when they're thirsty. There's no need to force yourself to drink water just for the sake of it. 

Causes of Infant Water Intoxication

Infant water intoxication is very rare, but it can happen. If it does happen, the results can be horrible. It might even be life-threatening. So how does a child end up with too much water intake? 

Overdiluting Baby Formula

Baby formula should be prepared precisely according to package instructions. But it's quite expensive. That's why some parents choose to dilute it with water to stretch their budget. When a baby drinks an overdiluted infant formula, it also dilutes the sodium levels in the blood. This can result in an electrolyte imbalance, causing tissues to swell. 

The water-to-formula ratio is carefully computed. So always follow the package instructions. You should also make sure to discard any leftover formula. Don't add more water and powder to refeed it to your baby.

Feeding Juice or Water to Babies

Some parents tend to feed their infant children fruit juices, thinking it's safe and healthy even. But the water in formula or breast milk is all a baby needs up to six months old to stay hydrated. Avoid giving your baby a bottle of fruit juice or other fluids unless instructed by your doctor. 

Sharing Water from Your Cup

When you're baby sees you drinking from your cup, they may want some too. But refrain from giving them any, no matter how cute they ask. You should only provide them with water when they start eating solids at six months old. Even then, you should still keep their water to small sips until they reach one year old. 

Leaving Babies Unattended during Bathtime

Babies can mistakenly drink water while taking a bath. Everything can happen in the blink of an eye. It's better that you have your eyes glued to your baby in case they do end up drinking some water. At least, this way, you know what happened and what to look out for. Also, you need to make sure your baby understands that cups at bathtime are for playing and not drinking. 

Signs and Symptoms of Infant Water Intoxication

Babies will exhibit some signs and symptoms if they suffer from water intoxication. If any of the symptoms below occur, contact your pediatrician as soon as possible.

  • Swollen face
  • Unusual irritability
  • Body temperature that is below 97 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Unusual drowsiness
  • Twitching
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Poor coordination
  • Unusually clear urine

Too much water dilutes the body's sodium level and may even end up flushing it, causing an electrolyte imbalance. The imbalance can alter brain activity. It may even lead to seizures in babies. In more severe cases, infant water intoxication may also result in a coma.

Recommended Water Consumption

As a rule of thumb, babies under six months old shouldn't be given water. Aside from the danger of water intoxication, letting them drink water may hamper their ability to absorb the nutrients in breast milk or formula. It may even cause babies to eat less. As a result, they may not get all the nutrients they need.

Here is a simple water consumption guide.

  • Infants (0-6 months). Should not be given any plain water. Breast milk or baby formula is enough to keep them hydrated. For formula milk, follow the package instruction to the letter. Do not overdilute it.
  • Babies (6-12 months). Can be given water but keep it to a minimum of 4-6 ounces of natural/fresh juice and 8 ounces or less water. The majority of their fluid intake should still come from breast milk or formula.
  • Toddlers. You can give water to toddlers more liberally. You can now also combine their water intake with low-sugar beverages. Remember to include vegetables and fresh fruits with high water content in their diet. 

Treating Infant Overhydration 

Water intoxication isn't something you can treat at home. At the first sign, rush your baby to the nearest hospital immediately. How your baby will be treated will depend on their sodium level. In most cases, limiting or restricting their water intake should do the trick. But in more severe cases, the doctor may recommend using diuretics to increase urination. This will help expel the excess water from the body. They may also administer saline to restore sodium levels. 

Concluding Thoughts

Water intoxication is a serious condition. It can also be life-threatening. It shouldn't be taken lightly or as a joke as some people do. If you need to leave your baby in the care of somebody else, make sure to remind them about this.

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