Toddlers are notoriously contradictory. Sure, they love bananas today, but they'll definitely throw the world's worst fit if you try to get them to eat one tomorrow . . . after you've bought two bunches in preparation. Getting them to do something they don't want to do is the stuff that will haunt my nightmares well into the future (think I'm dramatic? Just wait until it happens to you), and drinking water is — usually — one of those huge tantrum triggers for my kids, ages 3 and 1. That is, unless they are in the bath. There's something about being surrounded by H2O that makes them suddenly thirsty. It's a lot of work to clean their squirmy selves and stop them from drinking the bath water at the same time (cardio day is every day around here!).
Some days I just want to let it slide — how bad can drinking water be, right? — but then I remember they're probably — more like definitely — peeing in there and, yeah, that's just gross. But is it harmful, too? POPSUGAR talked to two doctors to find out if drinking bath water can make toddlers sick.
Can Toddlers Get Sick From Drinking Bath Water?
Like many things parents worry about (read: Google obsessively at 2 a.m.), the answer to if toddlers can get sick from drinking bath water depends on the kid and the situation. If they drink just a little, there's no harm done. If they drink a lot, then yes, they can get sick or throw up, according to Charina Ramirez, MD, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Children's Health in Dallas and associate professor at UT Southwestern.
"Typically, drinking bath water is not dangerous for toddlers, but of course, it's NOT recommended," said Dr. Ramirez. "With that said, there are several things that can be in bath water, like soap, shampoo, fecal material, and possibly urine that can contaminate the water. Depending on what is in the bath water and how much bath water is swallowed, toddlers can get an 'upset tummy.' This can manifest as stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea."
I just want to let it slide — how bad can drinking water be, right? — but then I remember they're probably — more like definitely — peeing in there and, yeah, that's just gross.
Rashmi Jain, MD, a pediatrician based in Irvine, CA, and founder of a pediatric telemedicine service BabiesMD.com, agreed that drinking bath water probably won't lead to a medical emergency. Additionally, because urine is sterile, swallowing a bit of diluted urine in the bath doesn't pose a huge risk. "If there is stool in the bathwater, this could pose a health hazard," said Dr. Jain. "Most parents, however, usually drain the bath immediately, clean the tub, and then rebathe the child, so the chances of a toddler swallowing bacteria/feces-laden water is highly unlikely."
She agreed with Dr. Ramirez that drinking diluted soap or bath water might cause an upset stomach, although just a little is "unlikely to warrant an emergency room visit or a gastric lavage to empty out a child's stomach contents."
"Remember the taste of soapy water is not favorable enough for a child to want to drink it by the glass full," said Dr. Jain. "They may take in a gulp or sip while playing in the water, but most likely they'll actually end up spitting most of it out before even swallowing it. Bottom line, the few drops or sip that a child might even ingest is not enough to make young kids sick or be dangerous for their health."
How Can You Stop Your Kids From Drinking Bath Water?
When saying "No" doesn't work (LOL), there are a few other simple ways to get your kids to stop drinking bath water. "Toddlers can drink water during the day to avoid feeling the sensation of thirst when taking a bath," suggested Dr. Ramirez. "In addition, avoid bringing in bath toys such as spoons, cups, and bowls so the toddler is not tempted to use them to drink bath water."
Dr. Jain suggested "shifting the focus," which means to "redirect their attention and energy toward another desirable activity that is more rewarding or enjoyable." She explained, "Children thrive on the one-on-one attention of their parents. This is a great time to bond with your toddler and give them the focus they've been vying for all day. They'll drop misbehaving in an instant if they can get your undivided attention. Make up a game that they play with you when they're in the water . . . for the toddler who insists on drinking the bathwater, reinforce that this water is for bath time and not for drinking. If the child is thirsty, a parent might offer a bottle of water for them to drink while they're sitting in the bathtub."
What Can You Do If Your Toddler Drinks Too Much Bath Water?
First of all, stay calm. Dr. Jain reminded parents that children are just exploring their environment at this age. "These are moments where we have to appreciate their innocence and continue reinforcing desired behaviors repeatedly so that they can make it a part of their own inherent understanding of right and wrong . . . Thankfully, a sip of soapy water is not hazardous to our toddlers' health and hopefully tastes bad enough that they won't want to do it again."
Like with anything else you worry about your child ingesting, Dr. Ramirez recommended calling Poison Control (1-800-222-1222) if you are concerned about your toddler drinking bath water. Dr. Ramirez added, "If the child has more than four episodes of vomiting in one hour after drinking bath water, parents should seek medical advice or take their child the emergency room." Listen to your gut feeling here, parents.
What About Infants?
Keep in mind that toddlers (ages 1-3) are different from infants (0-12 months). Dr. Ramirez said, "Infants less than 6 months of age should not receive additional water intake aside from breast milk and/or formula. Infants between 6 to 12 months of age should have [a] limited amount of water (up to two ounces per day). Children under 1 year of age who consume too much water alone can lead to abnormalities in sodium (hyponatremia), which can be dangerous. Lastly, if parents have concerns about their child of any age, they should consult their pediatrician."
If your toddler drinks bath water, it's not necessarily a medical emergency. However, it could make your toddler sick or throw up, which is never fun as a parent. I started bringing a sippy cup of water into the bathroom during bath time to offer when my kids insisted on drinking, and it really worked wonders. Good luck!