Knowing what water to use in baby formula is crucial to ensure your little one stays healthy. All water looks the same, but there are significant differences. Some types of water contain higher levels of certain minerals, which can affect your baby’s developing teeth.
Before using tap water for your baby’s formula, you need to know what chemicals and minerals are present.
So, is it better to use bottled water? Let’s find out.
- Distilled water is safe for baby formula but shouldn’t be the only water consumed later on due to a lack of beneficial minerals and fluoride.
- Well water should be used with caution; test it for safety before using it for baby formula or drinking.
- Spring water is safe if purified and up to FDA standards, but distilled water is often preferred to avoid extra minerals.
- Bottled water is safe for baby formula but should be sterilized by boiling unless it’s distilled.
- Tap water can be used if tested for safety and lead content.
Using Distilled Water for Baby Formula
Distilled water is water that’s boiled into steam and then condensed back into its fluid form. It’s ultra-clean water, as all contaminants have been removed during the distillation process.
Is it Safe?
Yes, distilled water is relatively safe to use in baby formula. It doesn’t contain any nutrients, but your baby will get all they need from the formula.
Keep In Mind
Distilled water is fine for use in baby formula, but it shouldn’t be the only water your little one drinks later on. Because it’s completely purified, it doesn’t have any of the beneficial minerals that some other water types do.
It doesn’t replace the nutrients lost through sweating and can cause an electrolyte imbalance due to excessive urine output (1). There is no fluoride in distilled water, so there is no tooth protection for older infants.
Drinking distilled water is not dangerous to your toddler as long as it is balanced out with a wholesome diet.
Using Well Water for Baby Formula
Well water is derived from a small reservoir a few feet beneath the surface and is enriched by minerals from the ground. Many people across the U.S. have private wells supplying their homes with water.
Is it Safe?
Well water is to be used with caution when mixing baby formula. Wells can contain toxins or bacteria that are not safe for humans to drink.
If your home uses well water, you must get it tested before drinking it or using it for baby formula. Don’t simply boil it and assume it’s safe for your baby. Most well water contains minerals such as nitrates and iron, which you can’t boil away.
Boiling the water may even increase the concentration of these minerals. Call your county’s health department for information on testing. Since it is recommended to heat water to at least 158 degrees F (70 degrees C) when preparing infant formula, well water is typically not the best choice (2).
Keep In Mind
Frequently testing your well water is a must. Microorganisms and bacteria can settle in, making you sick. If your water is safe, it’s still best to boil it before using it for baby formula. The Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology discusses the risks of Salmonella and other bacterial infections that may be transmitted.
Baby Formula with Spring Water (Artesian)
Spring or artesian water is similar to well water, but it comes from a much deeper reservoir. It’s not typical water to get through your tap, and most people buy it in bottles or jugs.
Is it Safe?
It depends. Many prefer using distilled water to be on the safe side. However, spring water, which has been purified and is up to FDA standards, is safe to use — though you should still boil it.
If the water comes straight from the source, it can contain minerals or even bacteria your baby shouldn’t ingest.
Keep In Mind
Many kinds of spring water contain minerals that aren’t ideal for your baby. All the minerals babies need come from their formula — water is merely there to dilute it. This is why most pediatricians will advise only to use distilled water.
What About Bottled Water?
Sometimes, bottled water is the easiest option if your water is unsafe or you’re away from home. Nursery Water is purified bottled water marketed exclusively for babies. However, it isn’t your only option.
Many of these options contain fluoride, which is not necessary until 6 months of age. If you live in an area where your municipal water is non-fluoridated, and your pediatrician has prescribed a fluoride vitamin supplement for your baby, additional fluoride from Nursery Water is not necessary or recommended.
Any bottled water that’s low in fluoride and has labels indicating it has been purified, distilled, deionized, demineralized, or has gone through reverse osmosis, is fine.
Any water you purchase within the U.S. must abide by laws and the FDA’s water quality standards.
Is it Safe?
Yes, bottled water purchased in the U.S. is safe for baby formula. However, you should still sterilize it by boiling it unless it’s distilled.
Keep In Mind
The biggest drawback of using bottled water is the price. It’s pretty expensive, and it may not be worth the trouble.
Using Tap Water for Baby Formula
With the advent of a variety of home water filter systems, many families choose tap water for preparing infant formula. This is a much more economical option than bottled water.
However, most filters do not remove the fluoride added by municipalities. It is recommended to heat tap water to 158 degrees F (70 degrees C) when using it to prepare infant formula (3).
Is It Necessary to Boil the Water?
In the past, manufacturers always said you should boil any water used for baby formula. However, many now recommend you consult your pediatrician instead.
The American Academy of Pediatrics stresses the importance of using water from a safe source. They also state that if you are sure your tap water is safe, you can mix it at room temperature with formula. There is no need for boiling or sterilization.
If you’re unsure of the safety of your supply, then boil your tap water. Bring cold tap water to a rolling boil, then turn the heat off. Leave it to cool before mixing it with formula. Here is more information from the AAP about safe water.
Never let the water boil for more than one minute. Doing so could increase the concentration of the impurities present in the water.
To prevent bacterial contamination, don’t leave the water to cool for any longer than 30 minutes.
Before feeding, always ensure the bottle is not too hot or cold. Shake a few drops onto the inside of your wrist to test the temperature.
Never Add More Water
Another concern about boiling water is lead. Unfortunately, there are many places where tap water has a higher-than-desired lead content. When such water is boiled, the lead concentration increases, making it more harmful. Lead exposure can cause permanent neurological and developmental deficits in infants and children. It is, therefore, important to have your tap water tested for lead before using it to prepare formula (5).
Fluoride and Baby Formula
If your water contains high concentrations of fluoride, you should be mindful of how you use for baby formula.
Fluoride is a component that is often added to water systems to strengthen the enamel on our teeth. However, too much can result in something called dental fluorosis.
Dental fluorosis isn’t a tooth disease — it’s more of an annoyance that causes discoloration of a baby’s developing teeth (6). It only affects new teeth, which are still growing under the gums. Once they emerge, too much fluoride has no effect.
Discoloration from dental fluorosis appears as white streaks or lines on the permanent teeth. In many cases, it’s so subtle that only a dentist will be able to notice it.
Still, it’s a point worth considering. Experts recommend that you avoid using fluoridated water solely for baby formula. If your tap water has added fluoride, use distilled bottled water a couple of times a day instead to balance it out (7).
If you’re unsure of how much fluoride is in your water, check with your city’s water company. Verify that fluoride levels are around 0.7 parts fluoride to 1 million parts water (8).
I have many parents in my practice who are concerned about claims of other harmful effects of fluoride, which are unproven but prevalent on the internet. They often resist giving their infant or older child fluoride supplementation, assuming that regular dental care and the use of fluoride toothpaste is sufficient. As mentioned above, fluoride is beneficial to teeth that have not yet erupted. When given at the appropriate age and amount, there is no harm (9).
Editor's Note:Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP