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Which drinks should I give?

  • Breast milk is the ideal drink for babies in the first few months, and ideally up to their first birthday. You can go on breastfeeding as long as you want to.

  • Infant formula is based on cow’s milk and is the only alternative to breast milk in the first six months of your baby’s life. It can be used up to the time when ordinary cow’s milk can be introduced (at one year old) or beyond. Once your baby is six months old you can give follow-on milks, but this change is not necessary.
  • Full-fat cow’s milk is not suitable as a main drink until your baby is one year old as it doesn't contain sufficient iron and other nutrients to meet your baby’s needs. Semi-skimmed milk is not suitable as a drink for children under two, but can be introduced from two years if the child is a good eater and has a varied diet. Skimmed milk is not suitable for children under five. For convenience, lower-fat milks can be used in cooking from the age of one.
  • Soya-based Infant formula based on cow’s milk are nutritionally preferable to those based on soya. Only use soya-based infant formula on the advice of your doctor or health visitor. They have been developed for babies allergic to cow’s milk and they can be prescribed for this purpose. Soya-based infant formulas contain sugars which can cause tooth decay, so you have to be particularly careful about caring for your baby’s teeth once they start coming through. Only give soya-based infant formula at mealtimes, and don’t allow your baby to suck for long periods on a bottle, for example as a comforter. If you are weaning your baby on to a vegan (strict vegetarian) diet, give soya-based infant formula until the age of two as it is a good source of many important nutrients. Soya milk not designed specifically for babies does not contain enough nutrients. If soya-based milk is recommended by a health professional instead of a cow’s milk-based infant formula, always use soya milk which is labelled as infant formula as this means it is nutritionally enriched.

  • Goat’s and sheep’s milk are not suitable as drinks for babies under one year old as they do not contain sufficient iron and other nutrients to keep your baby healthy. Providing they are pasteurised, they can be used once a baby is one year old.
  • Wateris the best alternative drink to milk. Other drinks can fill babies and toddlers up leaving them with little appetite for more nutritious foods at mealtimes. Take water from the mains tap in the kitchen and boil it for babies under six months (it doesn’t need boiling once your baby is six months old). Bottled natural mineral waters vary in the levels of some minerals such as salt and some, with very high levels, are not safe for this reason. Fizzy (carbonated) bottled water can damage teeth because it’s acidic. If you have to use bottled water (for instance when travelling abroad), choose a still spring water and boil it until your baby is six months old.
  • Citrus fruit juices such as orange juice or grapefruit juice are a good source of vitamin C, but also contain naturally present sugars which can cause tooth decay. They’re acidic too. Fruit juices should not be given before your baby is six months old. However, vitamin C helps to absorb any iron in a meal and so you may be advised to give diluted fruit juice with your child’s meals after six months, especially if your baby has a vegetarian diet or you are breastfeeding. Give very dilute juice (1 part fruit juice with 10 parts cooled, boiled water) in a feeding cup at mealtimes only. 
  • Squashes, fizzy drinks, flavoured milk and juice drinks Filling up on too much of these drinks can result in a poor appetite, poor weight gain and, in toddlers, loose stools. They are all unsuitable for young babies as they contain sugars and even if diluted can cause tooth decay, especially when given in a bottle. Most contain varying amounts of artificial sweeteners (even those not labelled as ‘diet’ or ‘no added sugar’, which may be more tooth friendly, but still encourage a sweet tooth). Frequent consumption of artificially sweetened drinks by children can result in excessive intakes (see Diet drinks and ‘no added sugar’ drinks, below). If you want to use squashes, fizzy drinks, flavoured milk and juice drinks, keep them for mealtimes in a feeder cup and make sure all juices are diluted well. Offer water and milk in between meals. Never give these drinks as a bedtime drink or put them in a bottle for your baby to hold, and try to keep drinking times short. Do not give fizzy drinks to toddlers – they are acidic and can damage tooth enamel.
  • Diet drinks and ‘no added sugar’ drinks, whether squashes or fizzy drinks, are not intended for babies or toddlers. They contain artificial sweeteners which may be more tooth friendly than other squashes, but they still encourage a sweet tooth. The artificial sweeteners saccharin and aspartame can be found in lots of these drinks and, if they are not diluted enough, your child could get more of these sweeteners than is recommended. If you do give concentrated drinks containing saccharin, dilute them well (more than you would for yourself), so your child doesn’t get too much of this sweetener (at least 1 part sweetened drink to 10 parts water). Many regular squashes (not labelled ‘no added sugar’) also contain artificial sweeteners. Look at the label to check.
  • Baby and herbal drinks may contain sugars and their use is not recommended.
  • Tea and coffee are not suitable drinks for babies or young children. They reduce iron absorption when taken with meals and, if sugar is added, may contribute to tooth decay

We are indebted to Health Promotion England for their help in compiling this section.