Water Intoxication in Infants

Every time my baby hiccups or seems thirsty, the usual suggestion from anyone (including family member or complete stranger) is to give her some water. And even though I insist that her pediatrician has advised against it, I am told that it has been practiced for many decades by so many that there really is no harm in practicing it myself. And while I understand that it’s a very natural instinct to give the baby -or anyone for that matter- water to prevent  assumed-dehydration, children below the age of one are at higher risk of water intoxication (so are those who are dehydrated after a bout of viral or bacterial infection that causes vomiting and diarrhea). In an infant, too much water can dilute sodium in the blood and flush it out of the body, thereby altering brain activity, which can lead to a seizure. An infant’s diet also does not contain enough food sources to replenish the lost sodium. In addition, their immature kidneys cannot flush out any excess water fast enough, causing a dangerous buildup of water in the body, again leading to water intoxication and seizures. Although these seizures are benign and have no lasting effect on a child’s health, they are quite dramatic, requiring an immediate visit to the hospital or a doctor.

So why not stop the water altogether and completely avoid having baby go through them. That’s what I do with Ahalya, as advised by her pead and midwife. However, if you do feel like your infant is thirsty or dehydrated, don’t leave them starved for fluids. Offer breast milk or formula instead.

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