What drinks can I offer my baby?

Toddler girl sitting on grass drinking from a pink stainless steel insulated 'Big Kiddie Cup' with straw for kids by Starting Solids Australia.

What can we offer?

We get so many questions about drinks for little people and whats appropriate at what age!

What should they have once starting solids? Should you feed them juice? When can they have cow’s milk instead of formula?

From birth until around 6 months, infants only need breastmilk or infant formula. After this point, when introducing solids, babies can start to have a small amount of boiled and cooled water (small sips with meals is a great starting point). As they drink less milk feeds water intake should increase.

There isn’t much space for other drinks in our little ones diets. When competing with little stomachs, that need a reasonable amount of food, most other drinks, such as soft drinks, cordials and energy drinks don’t offer infants any real nutritional benefit over having a diet rich in a variety of different foods, and often are just a significant source of both energy and sugar. As such our Australia Infant Feeding Guidelines recommend only breastmilk, formula, and water are served to infants in their first year of life.

Appropriate nutrition during your child’s early life is super important for their growth and development and setting the foundations for their future health. Including drinks high in sugar has been liked to increased risk of weight issues and dental problems. In soft drinks, and particularly energy drinks, caffeine is also often present in varying amounts depending on the type and brand. Caffeine can have stimulating effects, and this may have disruptive effects on their sleep and rest cycles. It can also interfere with iron absorption.

Firstly, let’s tackle juice.

Whilst it seems to fly under the radar because its often assumed it’s the same as just having fruit, juice also falls into the list of drinks that should largely be avoided for infants. It’s much better to eat your fruit than it is to drink it.

Juicing fruit removes the fibrous components of the fruit leaving behind the sugar filled liquid. This fibrous component helps with that full feeling, and contains the fibre needed to support a healthy gut bacterium. If you think about it, it makes sense. A 250ml glass of orange juice contains the juice of 2-3 whole oranges! It’s quite easy to drink a glass of orange juice without feeling overly full however eating 2-3 whole oranges would be a little more difficult, take a lot longer and leave you feeling much fuller!

For context, whilst juice is not actually counted as a serve of fruit, a small glass of orange juice contains 2-3 oranges, and an infant 7-12 months requires 0.5 serves of fruit (which is around 0.5 of a small orange). As per the Australian Infant Feeding guidelines we recommend waiting until at least 2 years of age to introduce juice as a drink and offering it in moderation after that.

What about smoothies?

Smoothies generally use the whole fruit along with other ingredients like yogurt, milk, oats, nut butters etc. They offer some nutritious foods in an easy to consume way. This is great for toddlers and older kiddos however in line with the recommendation of no other drinks for babies we recommend waiting until 12 months to offer a smoothie as a drink to your little one.

From the age of 6-12 months, we are transitioning little ones away from drinking their foods and helping them develop their oral motor skills. We’re teaching them about the taste, feel and look of foods, how to eat, how to move their hands to their mouth, how to chew, how to move foods from the front to the back of their mouth, and later from side to side! We want them to learn how to use their tongues and practice their gag reflex, and to maintain their awareness of hunger and fullness. In order to do this it’s important to keep giving them more challenging textures and limit meals that are served in drink form. Serving a smoothie in a bowl off a spoon can be a great way to share with your little one!

We are currently working on a resource all about smoothies for kids, keep an eye out for that one!

Cow's Milk and Plant Milks

Up until 12 months breast milk or formula should be the main drink for babies. Cows milk contains more protein than formula or breastmilk and in large amounts can be too much for an infant’s developing kidneys. Plant based milks lack the nutrients required to be offered as a main drink. All options however can be used as an ingredient in foods from the time your baby starts solids.

After 12 month's cow's milk can replace formula but it is recommended to limit to a maximum of 500ml per day. Foods like cheese and yogurt also contribute to calcium intake so if these are included, then the amount of milk your infant needs will reduce. Breastfeeding is recommended to continue until 2 years or longer if desired.

If you are planning on weaning from breast milk or formula and using a plant based milk as your babies main drink we suggest consulting with a Dietitian to discuss what other dietary considerations should be made.

You can book a consult with our Dietitian's here by clicking this link -> Consultations

So in summary, in the first 12 months, the list of drinks that are appropriate for babies to consume is short. After that, there may be a little more room for other drinks, including cow’s milk. However, soft drinks, cordials, flavoured milks, energy drinks and fruit juice are recommended to be avoided or served sparingly.


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