Have we poisoned our baby?
February 24, 2012 8:41 AM   Subscribe

We cluelessly fed our 4-month old baby three or four 4-oz bottles of formula made with lukewarm water from the tap over the last 7 days. Should we have her tested for lead?

It occurred to my wife that it might not be a good idea, so she googled it, and as it turns out, it's widely accepted as a terrible idea. I can't believe I didn't know this or hear it at some point, but there you go. I am ashamed.

So anyway, have we done irreversible damage? Should we do anything about it? She normally breastfeeds but her hunger the last few days has exceeded supply so we've been (and probably will continue, with store-bought water) supplementing with a bit of powdered Similac.

House is a 50-year-old block stucco beater in the Southwest, pipes appear to be soldered copper. I wouldn't be surprised if there had at some point been lead paint on the walls, though they've had a few coats in the post-lead paint era as the house was once a rental.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (22 answers total)
Surely if the tap water in your town is too dangerous to drink you would have heard about it?
posted by TheRedArmy at 8:44 AM on February 24, 2012 [9 favorites]

IANAD but I am pretty sure that 3-4 bottles are not going to hurt her. If you believe there's lead in your water and paint you should by all means get that tested. But 3-4 bottles could not cause "irreversible damage."
posted by yarly at 8:44 AM on February 24, 2012 [7 favorites]

"widely accepted" by whom?

Tap water is typically safe. And actually, better than bottled water because it has added minerals/flourides that aren't in bottled water (there have been studies showing increasing cavities in children due to higher bottled water consumption and less tap water).

Anyway, if you're concerned, test your water for lead.

But, my annecdote is;

My first kids, we washed and sanitized every single thing.

My second, we washed everything under hot water.

Our third, when something like a pacifier fell on the ground, the dog came over, licked it, and we popped it back in the baby's mouth.

All three are alive and well. The first one is somewhat shell-shocked and nervous, I think from all the "don't touch that! be careful!" that we did to him as first time parents.

If you're concerned, about lead in your house, though, get the water and walls tested.
posted by rich at 8:49 AM on February 24, 2012 [36 favorites]

Probably not a huge deal. Best practice is to run tap water for a little bit before using it for bottles, but even in your situation any exposure would be minimal.

If your pediatrician is anything like ours, your baby will be getting a lead test at one year-15 months. It's a blood draw so it's kind of a rough experience, so it's not something I'd want to put a kid through more than once.

If you're still worried, call your doctor and ask them.
posted by drezdn at 8:50 AM on February 24, 2012

Yes, it's true that you should not use tap water for your baby's formula (they have nursery water for that), but I don't think that four 4oz bottles are going to do anything even in the slightest. Heck, my sister in law used only warm tap water for 3 months, every day, all day long, and her baby is fine...we think.

You would have to use warm tap water for 18 months or more for any possibility, and even then people have been using tap water for years...
posted by TinWhistle at 8:51 AM on February 24, 2012

It's not the tap water that's the problem, it's the tap water heated by your water heater. Heat the tap water some other way, and it'll be fine, but you could filter it if you like.
posted by helicomatic at 8:52 AM on February 24, 2012 [12 favorites]

Never ever ever drink water that has been on the hot side of your domestic water system. The increased temperatures will leach far more metals out of the pipes and fixtures.

Always start with cold and heat it on the stove.

That said, the exposure for this amount of time would be minimal, and if you want to feel better, test the hot water for "corrosion byproducts" (this will include lead, iron, cadmium, copper, and a few others), and then if there is a lot of lead (over 16 or so PPB, consider testing your kid's blood, but I still think you are OK.
posted by Danf at 8:53 AM on February 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

Google "[YourTown] annual drinking water quality report". Assuming you're in the US, your local drinking water provider is required to provide annual testing reports for lead in drinking water.

I'm not suggesting you have a problem, because I don't think you do. But looking at the sampling results for your town might make you feel more comfortable.

For what it's worth, I'm an environmental consultant and I work with drinking water quality from time to time. I'd personally be fine with using tap water -- as long as it's cold tap water, and as long as the faucet has been flushed until the water runs cold. (If you're trying to save water, you could use the flush water for something like watering plants.)
posted by pie ninja at 8:55 AM on February 24, 2012

Oh, anonymous, please do not feel ashamed!

Do you have a nurseline or public health line that you can call with this question? For your own peace of mind, I do think a non-emergency visit to your doctor to discuss your concern would be helpful.
posted by sillymama at 8:59 AM on February 24, 2012

No, relax. Chances are your tap water is fine and you could use it, untreated, for life with no ill effects. However, a lot of lead issues in particular occur in the "last mile" of the plumbing so it really is hard to know for absolute certain without testing. But days or even weeks are really not going to be an issue. These are cumulative problems. To test or not? It's sort of a judgement call. It's not difficult or particularly expensive. But for perspective I've never bothered.

If you want to improve your water quality, an easy and cheap route is 1) run it cold as pie ninja suggests - this is the first line defense suggested even when lead is a known issue - 2) use a pitcher-type filter such as Brita or Pur, 3) let filtered water sit without being tightly capped (sitting in the pitcher is fine) for several hours before consuming to allow chlorine and chlorine by-products like trihalomethanes (THMs) to evaporate (filters don't do a great jobs on halogens, particularly the latter byproducts), and 4) store filtered water in a BPA-free container. This is what I do and I consider it total and sort of ridiculous overkill but it is easy and inexpensive overkill (and I like the taste of the filtered tap water quite a bit better).

You will read a lot of places that the filter products do not improve water quality, only taste but in fact they do a good job on heavy metals and many micro-organisms - BUT over time the filters will accumulate microorganisms and eventually become counter-productive breeding grounds so absolutely change them on the recommended schedule. Keep your pitcher clean, swap out your filters regularly. At the recommended procedures with the system I use, the cost is about 15 cents a gallon but I can get it down to 7-9 by being attentive to coupons and deals on the filters. It's not the cheapest way but it's a very low barrier to entry.
posted by nanojath at 9:08 AM on February 24, 2012

My dad's a plumber. I used to help him out when I was in university. The issue of "lead in the tapwater" would be caused by your house's plumbing, not your city water system. It's true that many houses used to be plumbed with lead solder... My dad used tin solder when he plumbed our house in 1973.

However, I wouldn't worry about this one time. Just use cold tapwater from now on.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:15 AM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

You need to treat this quickly: like me, you are a new parent, and have made a simple mistake. Just sit down, take a deep breath, and remind yourself that, as sleep deprived as you no doubt are, and as overwhelming as this whole matter is, the kid is going to be fine, you're doing okay, and the water you drink is not going to poison the kid. In the long term, as the kid gets older, never vote for politicians who complain about "over regulation" on things like drinking water standards and pollution, but otherwise, don't panic.
posted by history is a weapon at 9:15 AM on February 24, 2012 [8 favorites]

Definitely have the water tested - this is a good idea, not just for your baby but for you. That said, I'm shocked there is so much anti-tap water sentiment here. In the US (and in many other parts of the world), tap water is absolutely safe - especially compared to bottled water, I would be surprised if the bottled water #'s are much better than your home tap water. I would be surprised if you have any lead at all.

Concerning hot and cold water qualities suggested above - I don't think there is a significant difference for anything remotely harmful. In fact for a copper piped house, one could argue that the hot would be cleaner due to the fact that any nasties will have already been leached out over the installed lifetime of the plumbing system. Also remember not everything is more soluble in hot water.

Definitely have any paint tested if you suspect a problem - this really is a cause for concern.
posted by NoDef at 9:15 AM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

We used gallons of distilled water for my son's bottles until he was about 6 months old.

Then we went to regular old tap water.

He had a lead test at about 9 months old, and it was normal.

I wouldn't worry too much unless you have reason to believe something is wrong with your water. And then that's a bit of a different question.
posted by zizzle at 9:21 AM on February 24, 2012

Just think about how much warm water they are (and we all) drank in the bath. The kid is going to be fine. I wouldn't make it a habit though.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 9:50 AM on February 24, 2012

Our son had formula mixed with tapwater ages 1 month-1 year. No issues whatsoever, he's a happy healthy kid. Like others have said, don't worry about it unless you have reason to believe that there is something wrong with your tap water.
posted by agress at 9:56 AM on February 24, 2012

Here's the thing - yes, there is almost surely some lead in your solder. And lead is bad for brains. HOWEVER, if you're drinking public water, they also adjust the pH to make it much harder for lead to leach into your water, even from within the house.

So along with looking at your CCR (your local water supply results) for your own comfort and education, just don't Keep using warm water for this purpose. The risk to your baby from such a small short-term dose is minimal.
posted by ldthomps at 10:01 AM on February 24, 2012

Oh, and I was going to add that the other great thing about older homes is that you actually have to worry about lead Less, because all the years of minerals building up in the pipes provides a barrier between the lead and your water.
posted by ldthomps at 10:02 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

A child's iron stores can prevent lead absorption; maybe use iron-rich formula when you give a bottle? Watch for constipation, though.

My kid had elevated lead at his 1 year appointment, which we traced to a piece of jewelry he had been handling. Ped recommended iron supplements and his next test was normal.
posted by xo at 10:02 AM on February 24, 2012

If you google for pretty much anything to do with infants, you'll find plenty of scaremongers thrilled to tell you you're doing it wrong. Choose your sources wisely -- there's a lot of misinformation and overprotective people on some of those parenting forums and blogs.

From what I can tell, it seems that to the extent there is a concern with tap water and formula, it's more often an issue with fluoridated water than with lead -- but even that appears to be a very mild concern: the Mayo clinic for example says "It's considered safe to use fluoridated tap water to prepare infant formula."

Switch to bottled water if it'll make you feel better, and get your tap water tested if you're concerned about it. But relax, you've done nothing worth worrying about. It'd take a lot more than three bottles of the same water you drink every day to cause any kind of real problem.
posted by ook at 12:15 PM on February 24, 2012

I think the issues around using water from the hot tap for drinking have more to do with all the crud that accumulates in the hot water heater over time. If you think there are issues with your cold tap water, test the water not the baby.

Lead paint on the walls would have nothing at all to do with your tap water.
posted by yohko at 5:38 PM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think your tap water is fine. Its just that it came from the hot water tank that is the issue.

I really came in to add that since your wife is breastfeeding she should consider pumping after giving formula to keep up her supply as it is a balance that can QUICKLY adjust and she may find herself needing to give more formula as her supply decreases. So if possible she may want to take steps to boost her supply. Best of luck!
posted by saradarlin at 7:35 PM on February 24, 2012

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