We're constantly being told how important water is for our health. And not just because it is good for us - providing us with many health benefits - but that it's absolutely vital for our survival. Our bodies use water in all our organs, cells, and tissues to help regulate the temperature and maintain other bodily functions. And because our bodies lose water through digestion, breathing, and sweating, we need to rehydrate by drinking fluids and consuming foods that contain water.
And if this is the case, how come we don't let babies drink water, as well as milk?
Well, put simply, their tiny, defenseless bodies simply aren't developed enough to consume so much as a few ounces of H2O. In fact, in some cases, consuming just a few ounces of water could potentially go on to cause infant mortality.
On average, a healthy adult is made up of 55 to 60% water whereas the average baby is about 75% water. And it's precisely due to this difference that babies shouldn't be consuming water until they're at least six months old. This includes water from taps and bottles.
I mean, water can be deadly for adults too. Our kidneys all have a limit as to how much water they are able to handle. If you exceed this limit, the excess water will enter into your bloodstream where it will dilute the sodium (salt) in your blood.
Once your blood goes below 0.4 ounces of sodium per gallon, you could be at risk of a condition called Hyponatremia. This occurs when your cells attempt to restore normal sodium levels by absorbing the excess water, swelling up in the process. This swelling can go on to cause complications such as vomiting, muscle spasms, and confusion.
Hyponatremia is quite common in marathon runners who tend to drink too much water too quickly during a race without providing their bodies without enough sodium to maintain a balance in the blood.
If you continue to drink past this point, soon enough, the excess water will affect your brain cells. By this point, you will be suffering from water intoxication which about 200,000 Americans experience each year.
Water intoxication occurs when your brain cells swell which leads to a buildup of pressure inside your skull. In some cases, this can lead to brain damage, seizures, and potentially, death. But there's no need to worry about it too much as fatal water intoxication is very unlikely to occur in a fully grown human. You would have to drink 2.5 to 5 gallons every few hours to reach that point.
Unfortunately, newborns are a lot more sensitive as far as water is concerned. And why is this? Well, their kidneys are only about half the size of an adult's, meaning they cannot hold much water. Their kidneys are also not fully developed enough to properly filter the water. This essentially means that any water they consume will end up in the circulatory system where it dilutes their blood, increasing their water content up to 8%.
However, it's not just drinking water that could lead to problems. Indeed, most cases of water intoxication in babies revolve around overly diluting baby formula or when babies are repeatedly dunked up and down in a swimming pool leading to inadvertent consumption of water.
It is vital that if you suspect your infant could be suffering from water intoxication, you immediately take them to the hospital. It is there that a doctor will be able to provide the child with access to fluids such as intravenous saline solution and hopefully restore their ordinary sodium levels.