Too Much Water?

Dear Mamas,
My nine-month-old son likes to drink water, and I let him drink pretty much anytime he wants. But last night, he drank 220 mls of formula and two bottles of 180 mls each – all in the space of about three hours. I’ve heard of water intoxication, and a friend suggested I get his blood sugar checked if he’s feeling the need to drink so often (the friend thinks thirst is a sign of diabetes). Although I believe babies know when they’ve had enough to eat and drink, I suspect he’s using his drinking bottle like a pacifier and is not necessarily that thirsty. I’m starting to wonder if this is a case of too much of a good thing. Is it dangerous for my son to drink so much water?

Nancy in Tel Aviv

Dear Nancy,
This is a great question, and one that sent me back to the pediatric texts to be sure I give you accurate and complete information. It does seem like your little guy is chugging more than his share of water, and the question is why? The answer has several parts. First, the most common reason for excessive drinking in toddlers is habit and attachment to the bottle, as you suspected. It’s likely that he’s seeking comfort, and for children his age that’s usually found through sucking. However, there are a few uncommon medical causes such as diabetes mellitus and some rare kidney diseases, and these should be ruled out by your pediatrician. More about that in a moment.

There are some questions that may help us figure this out. Is he otherwise well — happy and thriving? Is he on a typical 3 meals/day schedule yet, and does he have a healthy appetite for solid foods? If so, the extra water he’s drinking is less likely to be a problem. Does he wet more diapers than average? What’s coming out should approximate what’s going in. I know that’s hard to figure, but you probably have a rough idea. Does he get distressed if he doesn’t have those extra bottles of water? Does he ask for them when he engaged in play, or just when he’s tired or needs comfort? Most babes need a bit of extra soothing in the evenings or before naps. If this is his pattern, it’s most likely a comfort mechanism.

I do recommend that you mention this to his doctor and have it checked to rule out a medical problem. A urinalysis and blood chemistry panel should provide all the info you need to put your mind at rest. Once that’s done, there are a few tricks to curb the habit.

Have you tried a pacifier? He’s a bit old to start, but I’m a big advocate. I do believe they provide much needed soothing and comfort and have very little downside. You could also try transitioning from a bottle to a sippy cup. He’ll still have access to water, but chances are he’ll drink much less … it’s just not as hypnotic as sucking on that bottle. As a side benefit, you’ll be rid of the bottle early and won’t have to fight that battle later. In the meantime, experiment with other soothing measures if he seems to need them.

Hope this helps!

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?

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