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The Dangers of Diluting Breast Milk or Formula

Tragedy struck two Georgia parents earlier this year when their ten-week old daughter died after they fed her diluted breast milk. This is not an anomaly. “Stretching” your supply is a common attempt made by mothers to keep the infant satisfied. According to a 2011 Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center study, more than a 25% of families in poverty reported watering down formula or reducing feedings. But, it comes with a cost.

Why is Water Dangerous?

Babies should not drink water until they are six months old and even then it should be in small amounts - one to three ounces at a time. Water has no nutritional value. Breast milk is the perfect food for infants and provides proper hydration as well. When an infant’s breast milk or formula is diluted it destroys the electrolyte balance needed for proper brain function and can cause water intoxication. Water intoxication also known as water poisoning or dilutional hyponatremia, is a disturbance in brain functions that results when the normal balance of electrolytes in the body is pushed outside safe limits by over hydration. Signs of water toxicity include grogginess, confusion, drowsiness, twitching and seizures.

This is what happened to the couple in Georgia. Their baby’s electrolyte and sodium levels dropped, making her brain swell. Experts warn that infants should drink breastmilk or formula prepared according to directions only.

Getting Help When Your Breast or Formula Supply is Low

For Breastfeeding moms, reach out to your local La Leche League for breastfeeding support and solutions. If you fear your child is not getting enough milk from your breast, talk to your child’s pediatrician or contact your local birthing center’s lactation consultant for assistance. Many times a lactation consultant can help resolve latch issues or determine what is causing the mother’s supply to be too low.

For bottle-feeding moms, if you are unable to afford formula contact your family doctor or pediatrician immediately. Your public health department will also be able to assist you.


Bonnie Jean Feldkamp is a writer and mother of two and expecting her third. If you liked this posting please follow her on Twitter @writerbonnie or like her on Facebook at for more great info on Raising Kids. 

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