As your little one grows, they encounter many new and exciting changes—some of which involve food. And while you may be tempted to introduce juice to your baby’s diet, it isn’t recommend. “While juice is something many children enjoy, pediatricians are often not enthusiastic about juice consumption,” says Ashanti Woods, a pediatrician at Mercy Family Care Physicians in Baltimore, Maryland. “Too much juice, too often, can lead to an array of health issues, including dental problems, obesity, and overall poor nutrition.” These problems can make it more likely to develop chronic diseases, such as hypertension and diabetes, later on. In short, babies should not drink juice.
But when is juice appropriate? And, more important, how much juice should your child be consuming? Today, we’re covering all your juice-related questions, from what age babies can start drinking juice, how to introduce juice, and everything in between. Parents spoke with Dr. Woods as well as Ayla Roberts, MSN, RN, a former pediatric registered nurse with over eight years of experience, and Emily Wisniewski, another pediatrician at Mercy Family Care Physicians, to answer all your questions about your little one and juice.
Can Babies Drink Juice–and, If So, At What Age?
The short answer is no; it is not recommended for babies under 12 months old to have juice. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), babies should drink breastmilk or formula until they turn one. Dr. Wisniewski reaffirms this, “I tell families that nothing other than breastmilk or formula should be given (drink-wise) to babies under six months. After six months, you can start to introduce other liquids, but breastmilk or formula should still be the primary liquid they consume. The reason behind this is that milk (or formula) contains fat, protein, vitamins, and nutrients that help your baby grow and develop. Juice does not really offer really any of those things..
Dr. Woods reinforces the recommendations made by the AAP. “Typically, the serving size varies by age. For example, four ounces of juice per day (not per cup) would be appropriate for a toddler aged 12 months up to 3 years old,” he says. However, in his experience, some families say they do not introduce juice until a child is older.
As your child ages, the amount of juice that is appropriate for them will increase. “The amount of juice could increase to four to six ounces for children 4 to 6 years of age, and finally, at age 7 (and older), we recommend up to eight ounces a day,” he says.
Why Should You Avoid Giving Your Baby Juice?
Even though you want to introduce new flavors to your baby, juice isn’t the best way to go about it. Like sodas, sports drinks, and other artificially flavored beverages, juice tends to be tasty, but otherwise isn’t beneficial.
While it might seem like there’s no harm in giving your baby 100% fruit juice, it’s essential to know that all most of the good stuff (like fiber and beneficial nutrients) isn’t making it in there. “Fruit juice is high in calories and sugar, which can lead to obesity, and isn’t very nutritious,” says Roberts.
While juice alone won’t directly dictate your baby’s future health, it can impact what they crave later on. Introducing sugar-loaded drinks early on can set them up to develop a preference for ever more sugary foods and drinks in the future. It can also detract from the naturally sweet flavor of whole, natural fruits.
Other health concerns
Additional concerns about juices and drinks with added sugar include worries about tooth decay, oral health, and diarrhea.
Too much fruit juice can also cause diarrhea, which leads to dehydration. Many juices (especially apple, pear, peach, and cherry) are also high in sorbitol—a non-digestible form of sugar. And when you have too much, these sugars draw more water into the lumen of the gut and this leads to looser stools.
Alternatives to juice
Roberts reminds parents that fruit juice is not a substitute for fresh fruits. “Whole fruits contain more nutrients, all important fiber, and often less sugar than fruit juice does.”
Dr. Wisniewski echos this fact. “I tell families it is honestly not very good for the child at all and, if they are going to introduce it, they should think of it as a treat like a soda. It doesn’t offer a lot other than sugar.” If you’re concerned about the size, shape, or firmness of the fruit you’d like to introduce, consider pureeing the fruit instead. Pureeing/mashing raw or roasted fruits is a great way to make them easier to manage for younger infants. There are no nutrients lost in this process, and no added sugar is needed.
Are There Any Cases Where Baby Should Drink Juice?
While there isn’t an official recommendation from the AAP, fruit juice can sometimes can help relieve constipation. Dr. Woods told Parents, “Occasionally, for the treatment of constipation, a pediatrician may recommend a single two-ounce or four-ounce serving of juice,” However, he also stresses, “This isn’t necessarily endorsed or practiced by all pediatricians, but it may be the rare exception when juice is introduced before their first birthday.”
Before deciding to go this route to treat your baby’s constipation on your own, check in with your pediatrician for their expertise and exact recommendations based on your baby’s circumstances.
How to Introduce Juice to Toddlers and Young Children
Once your baby is at a year old, you may decide to give them fruit juice, but again, it’s important to follow the juice serving sizes recommended by the AAP:
- Toddlers aged 1 through 3 years old: No more than four ounces per day
- Children aged 4 through 6 years old: From four to six ounces per day
- Children aged 7 to 18 years old: No more than eight ounces (or one cup) per day
Roberts suggests that, if you choose to introduce juice, you take a look at the ingredient label. “Ensure that it is 100% juice without added sweeteners. Additionally, you may also consider diluting the juice with water,” she says.
You should also serve juice at meal times only, according to Kids Health. This will limit when your child consumes the beverage. As for how you serve it, Dr. Wisniewski recommends using a separate cup for juice. That way, juice is never confused with milk, formula, and/or water.