Giving juice to babies can be a controversial subject, and you may be wondering if it’s OK. And if it is OK for your baby to drink it, when are they old enough, and how do you introduce it?
We’ve talked to doctors, dentists, and parents and have heard all sides of the debate.
In this article, we’ll talk about whether juice is safe for babies and what kind of juice is best, when it’s safest to introduce juice, and how you can go about doing it. We’ll also discuss what to avoid when introducing juice to your baby.
When Can a Baby Have Juice?
Up until the age of 6 months, your baby’s diet should consist of only breast milk or formula. So, if your baby is younger than 6 months old, they are too young for juice — or water or solid foods, for that matter.
The AAP recommends that children under 12 months avoid juice altogether (1).
There are many reasons for this, including the fact that breast milk and formula provide babies with all the vitamins and nutrients they need. Your baby’s digestive system needs time to mature, and your baby will have a lower obesity risk if you avoid introducing solid food and other drinks at an early age (2). Exclusively breastfed babies will also have higher immunity.
On top of waiting 6 months to a year to introduce juice, you should also make sure your child is already eating solid foods. If you introduce juice before your baby gets vitamins and nutrients from solid foods, you risk them getting full from the juice and refusing formula and breast milk.
Remember, liquids like water and juice can fill a baby up without giving them any vital nutrients they need to grow and develop. If they do not get the nutrition they need, the risk of malnutrition, failure to thrive, and anemia goes up. These conditions can cause severe health and development issues.
Tricks to Introducing Juice
So, your baby is old enough to have juice. You’ve started them on solids and are confident your baby is getting enough vitamins and nutrients even if you introduce juice throughout the day. Great, we’re so excited for you!
But before you toss some orange juice in a cup and have at it, make sure to read through the following points to prepare yourself. Trust us, your sanity and your baby’s tummy will thank you.
1. Talk to Your Doctor
It’s always a good idea to check in and see what your doctor thinks to make a fully informed decision about when to introduce juice.
They might know something about your family’s history or your baby’s medical history that could make them want you to hold off a bit longer.
2. Treat It Just Like Food
Just as you introduce one new food at a time, you should also try one juice at a time as well. Start with single vegetable or fruit juices and work your way up to combinations.
New recommendations state that it’s no longer necessary to wait two to three days after introducing a food before trying another. However, introducing one item at a time will make recognizing adverse reactions easier for you (3).
3. Treat Foods and Juices Separately
Grapes and grape juice are two very different things. The same goes for tomatoes and tomato juice.
Because of this, you should treat them as separates when introducing them to your baby. For example, you can try grapes out this morning and introduce grape juice tomorrow. This is just an extra measure to make sure you can identify any allergies your baby might develop.
4. Offer Juice Only With Meals
Juice can fill babies up, making them less likely to eat the things that will provide them with essential nutrients.
Offering it only at meals makes them less likely to chug it down and get full from the juice alone. Instead, they will get the needed vitamins and nutrients from the food on their plates.
5. Give Juice in a Cup Instead of a Bottle
Liquids from bottles will sit on your baby’s teeth longer than liquids from sippy cups (4). That is why dentists say you should avoid putting your child to bed with a bottle because the sugars in the liquid sitting on their teeth are likely to cause tooth decay.
If you are going to give your baby anything in a bottle, make sure it is not juice. The acid from juice is even worse than the sugar in milk, breaking down the enamel and causing decay faster than other liquids.
6. Limit the Amount
You should only give your baby 2 to 4 ounces of juice each day (5). Too much juice can not only make your baby feel full, but it can also lead to obesity and short stature in children and has been linked to failure to thrive (6). Juice should add a complementary flavor to your child’s diet and not be treated as a substitute for what they need.
7. Don’t Forget To Dilute
Diluting juice is important both because of its sugar content and its acidity. To help prevent tooth decay and tummy issues, dentists and doctors recommended you dilute juice to a 50/50 ratio with water.
Homemade vs. Store-Bought
Homemade is always best for your baby, right? I mean, it’s packed full of vitamins and nutrients, after all. But hold your horses; it’s a little more complicated than that.
While juice made from raw fruits and vegetables does provide vitamins and nutrients, it should not be allowed to touch your baby’s lips. Why, you ask? Because along with the vitamins and nutrients that come with raw produce, there are quite a few bacteria that come with it.
Unless juice is pasteurized properly, something that is hard to do at home, it can be dangerous to your baby.
Pasteurization is the process of killing bacteria by heating it to a specific temperature for a certain amount of time. Unpasteurized juice can contain higher numbers of bacteria, such as E. coli, Cryptosporidium, Salmonella, and Norovirus (7).
These bacteria have been known to cause symptoms such as:
- Bloody stools.
- Weight loss.
- Lack of appetite.
While older children and adults can usually handle the bacteria that lies in raw fruit juices, your baby’s small tummy will have a harder time. Any or all of these symptoms can be harmful to your baby. In severe cases, these bacteria can cause acute kidney failure, seizures, and even death (8).
Instead of making juice for your baby at home, where you cannot assure it is pasteurized properly, it’s best to head to the grocery store when choosing juice for your baby. Pick a 100% fruit or vegetable juice with no extra sugar or additives.
If you insist on making your baby’s juice at home, make it out of fruits and vegetables that have been boiled or steamed before juicing them, to kill off as much bacteria as possible.
The same issues can occur when feeding your baby raw vegetables, and especially fruits, which is why many doctors recommend cooking all fruits until your baby is 8 months old (9).
What Should I Watch For?
We hope your baby’s tummy enjoys the flavors of juice without any troubles, but sometimes things can happen.
Here are some signs to look out for when introducing juice to your little one:
1. Loss of Appetite
Juice can make babies feel full without giving them the nutrients they need to grow and thrive. If juice makes your baby feel full, they can start to refuse the breast milk, formula, and food they need to grow and thrive.
If the juice is not diluted correctly, the excess sugar can be tough on your baby’s tummy. One of the symptoms of juice that is too strong is diarrhea.
While making your baby poop can be a good thing in some cases, like when doctors recommend prune or pear juice if a baby is constipated, diarrhea could ultimately lead to dehydration.
3. Tooth Decay
We mentioned earlier in this post that fruit juice contains a lot of acids and sugar. Both of these can be bad for your baby’s teeth. Even if you give your baby their juice in a sippy cup, it can still sit on their teeth and lead to tooth decay.
If left untreated, this can be painful and take extensive treatments to fix, including pulling out your baby’s teeth.
Watch Out For Imposters
4. Gas and Stomach Pains
Babies have an immature digestive tract that makes it harder for them to break down sugars. Undiluted fruit juice, or juices that contain high fructose corn syrup, might cause your baby to experience gas and stomach pains when their body tries to break down the sugars.
Any of these problems can cause pain and discomfort for your baby. If your baby starts to experience any of these symptoms, it might be a good idea to hold off on the juice for a while and give your baby’s tummy time to settle down.
If you don’t take this step, the problems can worsen and possibly lead to anemia, malnutrition, failure to thrive, and obesity.