In these hot, hot holidays, I’ve been fielding heaps of questions about what to feed babies in the sweltering weather. It seems a lot of worried grandmas out there are telling their daughters their babies need cooled, boiled water to stop them becoming dehydrated.
Please, everyone, this is not true! If your baby is exclusively breastfed, you don’t want to muck around the delicate flora in their tummies. Breastmilk contains heaps of water – 87.5% of it to be exact, and the fat content of a mum’s milk adjusts so that the first part is nice and thirst-quenching – perfect in hot weather to keep a baby healthy and hydrated. Babies are smart. The little quick feeds they like to have when it’s hot means the milk doesn’t have a chance to turn into the fattier milk they get when they drink longer. Sometimes it’s trying to force a baby to feed that makes a baby seem unsettled, rather than the heat itself.
I know I like to have an iced drink in my hand during those 30˚C+ days to replace the fluids lost through all that sticky sweating. It’s the same with your baby. Offer the breast as frequently as possible —I bet your baby doesn’t knock it back! Breastmilk is a complete food, just think of it as breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks AND the drinks that we all need throughout the day.
If your baby is over 6 months, and has started eating family foods and drinking water out of a sippy cup, it’s still good to try to offer the breast as much as you can, rather than letting them chug down more and more water to quench their thirst. Remember, no matter how well your child is eating, breastmilk is still their main source of nutrition until 12 months – we want them to have the important stuff first! I find a lot of mums don’t know that letting their babies have other drinks can sometimes end up replacing breastfeeding or leading to unintentional weaning.
The other thing about breastfeeding in the heat is all that skin-to-skin contact can get really sweaty and annoying – I remember literally peeling my baby off me after feeds in extreme heat. Wetting a really thin piece of fabric, like a muslin wrap and putting it between you and your baby, can feel lovely and cooling and you don’t stick together so much. Some babies get really cranky and uncomfortable during hot weather, especially if they’re not used to it, so popping them in a bath for a few splashes, even a few times a day, is a great way of creating some calm.
For more information about breastfeeding in the heat, check out the Australian Breastfeeding Association article: https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bf-info/you-and-your-breastfed-baby/cool