By Raising Children Network
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Under six months, babies need only breastmilk or formula. After this, you can introduce small amounts of boiled and cooled water. Children can have other fluids after 12 months – but fruit juice and soft drinks aren’t recommended.

Water bottle

Under six months: breastmilk and formula

Babies under six months need only breastmilk or formula. There is no need to give water. Dehydration is extremely rare in breastfed babies, as long as they are allowed free access to the breast, which is what health professionals generally recommend.

Talk to your health nurse if you would rather your baby had a routine for breastfeeds or formula feeds instead of feeding on demand.

After six months: introducing water

At this age, you can give your baby small amounts of cooled boiled tap-water in hot weather and if baby seems thirsty. At 12 months, water no longer needs to be boiled – clean tap-water is fine.

Milk and water are still the best drinks, even after your child has turned one. If you allow free access to water, especially in hot weather or when children are running around a lot, they are much less likely to get dehydrated.

To help your child drink adequate amounts of water:

  • Have water on the table at meal and snack times.
  • Keep chilled water in a jug in the fridge. Add slices of lemon or orange or a sprig of mint for interest.
  • In summer, freeze small pieces of chopped fruit in ice blocks and add these to water at snack and mealtimes.
  • Try a water filter if your child doesn’t like the taste of your local tap-water.
  • Take filled water bottles when you go out with your child.

Cow’s milk

For children over 12 months, full fat cow’s milk is an excellent source of calcium, protein, riboflavin and vitamin B12.

Reduced-fat milk is not recommended for children under two. Skim milk is not recommended for children under five. This is because toddlers need fat and the fat-soluble vitamins it contains for their growth.

Calcium-fortified soy milk can be used as an alternative to cow’s milk. And remember, breastfeeding can continue after 12 months, for as long as it suits mother and baby.

Fruit juice

Fruit juice can provide valuable nutrients – but it has lots of sugar. Children don’t need extra sugar. It’s better to eat the fruit instead.

If you do want to give your child an occasional treat of fruit juice:

  • Mix it half-and-half with water.
  • Limit fruit juice intake to 150 ml a day for children aged 1-6 years.
  • Limit juice intake to 240-360 ml a day for children aged 7-18 years.

Children who drink too much fruit juice can have a poor appetite, diarrhoea, obesity and tooth decay, among other problems.

Water is better than fruit juice, because it satisfies thirst but doesn’t contain sugar.

Soft drinks

Like fruit juice, soft drinks and cordial contain lots of sugar. Unlike fruit juice, they have few vitamins or minerals. And cola and other soft drinks can contain caffeine, which could make your child extremely excited, then exhausted.

Video: Junk food and soft drinks

Download Video  24mb

In this video, parents let you in on their top tips for avoiding junk food and soft drinks. For example, one mum says that she just doesn’t have soft drinks in the house. Another tells how her children like plain mineral water, which they think is ‘fizzy, exciting, bubble water’.

Other parents share strategies for making a healthy diet part of everyday life. When it comes to junk food, they suggest teaching children to eat it in moderation, rather than denying ‘sometimes food’ altogether.

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  • Last Updated 14-01-2010
  • Last Reviewed 12-10-2009
  • American Academy of Pediatrics. (2001). The use and misuse of fruit juices in pediatrics. Pediatrics, 107, 1210-1213.
    National Health and Medical Research Council (2003). Dietary guidelines for children and adolescents in Australia. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.

    Smith, M.M., & Lifshitz, F. (1994). Excess fruit juice consumption as a contributing factor in nonorganic failure to thrive. Pediatrics, 93, 438-443.