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Water Intoxication in Babies

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Authored by Ceetee Sheckels in Child and Teen Health
Published on 12-18-2009

Water is a healthy, natural product. You have probably been told throughout your life that you should drink plenty of it. If so, it is likely that you are extending the same principle to your youngsters. The bad news is that while anyone can develop water intoxication, water intoxication in babies and young children can be even more problematic. While this is partially because an infant’s body is small and will feel the effects sooner, it is also because an infant is not able to communicate that he is beginning to feel ill.

Water intoxication in babies can occur from giving babies bottles of water to drink, or diluting baby formula with water. Although it is commonly believed that fresh water is a positive addition to an infant’s everyday diet, the amount of water which your baby consumes should be minimal.

A potentially dangerous effect of water intoxication is the disturbance of the body’s natural electrolyte balances. Consuming an excessive amount of water will flush potassium, sodium, and other essential elements out of the body. As an infant’s body is much smaller than an adult’s or an older child’s, a relatively small amount of water can cause this to occur. In addition, while adults and older children can sometimes make up for this by consuming foods and liquids that are rich in these elements, a baby’s limited diet makes replacing electrolytes much more difficult if they have been depleted. Severe electrolyte deficiency can result in problems ranging from the digestive system to the heart. The most sensible course of action is to avoid electrolyte depletion, rather than attempting to restore the balance after the fact.

Another effect of water intoxication is tissue swelling. Tissue swelling can affect the lungs, the heart, the nerves, and the brain. As it can impact the functioning of the body’s vital organs, it can result in death. Water intoxication can also lead to seizures, including babies who have no health problems. While the least serious complications of water intoxication in babies include changes in attitude and behavior which is similar to that of alcohol use, they are warning signs that your baby’s health is at risk. Instead of using over the counter preparations or home remedies, these signs of water intoxication should be brought to the attention of your child’s pediatrician.

Although doctors’ opinions vary, your questions about your child’s health should be discussed with your own doctor. These days, many pediatricians believe that the best and safest amount of plain water for a child who is under a year old is no water at all. They feel that the amount of liquid which a baby consumes will sufficiently prevent dehydration. These include ready-prepared formula, breast milk, and juices which have not been diluted with water. As the effects of water intoxication in babies can range from minor difficulties to life-threatening, it is easy to understand why pediatricians are urging parents to reduce or eliminate water from their babies’ diets. You should follow your doctor’s advice on this subject. Water intoxication does not need to occur.

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