Recognizing and Preventing Dehydration in Babies

Dehydration happens when our body loses more fluids than it takes in. Our youngest babes or elderly loved ones are at highest risk of dehydration, but it happens to all of us. Let’s cover dehydration causes and dehydration symptoms, as well as dehydration treatment.

What causes dehydration?

A lot of things can cause dehydration, but the most common cause in young children is a stomach bug. Gastrointestinal illnesses usually result in vomiting or diarrhea, and sometimes both. Our poor kiddos!

We are faced with two problems here – 1) anything our little one eats or drinks is coming right back out and 2), they usually aren’t in the mood to eat or drink because they don’t feel well. And they aren’t stupid – they figure out pretty quickly that those fluids are coming back up, so the simple solution is to stop putting fluids in. Unfortunately, this brings on dehydration more quickly.

Other common causes of dehydration are:

  • Physical exertion, especially on a hot day.
  • Fever, because water is evaporating from our skin to help cool us down.
  • Sore throat, because it hurts to drink.
  • Certain medications can also cause dehydration.

Signs of dehydration

Signs of dehydration in babies

  • Dry mouth, lips, or tongue
  • No tears when crying
  • Sunken eyes
  • Fussiness
  • No urine in more than 8 hours
  • Sunken soft spot on the top of their head

Signs of dehydration in kids

  • Same as the babies except they no longer have a soft spot.

Signs of dehydration in adults

  • Dry mouth, lips, or tongue
  • Severe thirst
  • Very dark-colored urine
  • No urine in more than 8 hours
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches

What to do for dehydration

If your child still has an appetite – great! Offer bland foods that will settle more easily in their belly, but there’s no need to withhold food if they want it. The most important thing to focus on, however, is encouraging them to drink enough fluids. So if they do not have an appetite, this is okay. It is perfectly normal to stay away from solid foods for a day or two if they are vomiting or having diarrhea.

If you are breastfeeding, continue to do so. Offer smaller but more frequent feedings, as this may be easier on your babe’s tummy. Nurse for 5 minutes every 30-60 minutes. If your baby is vomiting, a good option may be offering 5-10 ml of pumped breastmilk via spoon or syringe. If your baby is formula-fed, you can double the amount of water – this may ease diarrhea if that is the problem.

Other good options to help prevent dehydration if your kiddo is sick and >6 months old:

  • Water, ginger ale, tea, rehydration solutions (such as Pedialyte), unsweetened sports drinks, milk, and ice pops are good options.
  • Avoid juices unless your child will not drink anything else. In that case, dilute apple juice with water (50% water, 50% juice). This is especially important for kiddos experiencing diarrhea – the sugar in juice will make the diarrhea worse.

For the tiny babies under 6 months old, avoid giving them straight water. Ideally, their usual regimen of breastmilk or formula should be enough. If this doesn’t seem to be keeping them hydrated, give the pediatrician a call to discuss some other options.

As far as the Oral Rehydration Solution (Pedialyte or a store brand) goes, this is okay as long as it is not their sole intake for >6 hours.

  • If having diarrhea:
    • <1 yr old: 2-4 oz (60-120 ml) of the solution after each watery stool
    • >1 yr old: 4-8 oz (120-240 ml) of the solution after each watery stool
    • If you’re breastfeeding and concerned about dehydration and don’t think your breastmilk is replacing the lost fluid, you may offer formula or an Oral Rehydration Solution as described above.
  • If vomiting:
    • Small but frequent amounts of fluid is key
    • <1 yr old: 5-10 ml of the solution every 5 minutes
    • >1 yr old: 10-15 ml of the solution every 5 minutes
    • Once they’ve gone 4 hours without vomiting, double the amount given
  • Kids older than 3 years old don’t often need a rehydration solution

When to call the doctor

If your child is showing the signs and symptoms of dehydration we discussed above and you are not able to rehydrate them on your own, give the pediatrician a call. Also call the doctor if your kiddo is vomiting or having diarrhea for more than 24 hours.

Focus on hydration before dehydration becomes an issue, and you’ll never have to worry about when to call the doctor. But sometimes those trips to the bathroom are beyond our control so just do your best! And remember – if this ailment is caused from a tummy bug, keep those hands washed. We don’t need the entire family jockeying for toilet time!

Blake WagemanNurse Blake:

Blake Wageman, RN, BSN has over 11 years of nursing under her belt, primarily focused on NICU babies and, just as importantly, their worried parents. She also has two daughters who have kept her on her toes from birth all the way into their tween years. Blake’s passion is giving parents not only the information, but also the comfort and confidence they need to make good decisions for their kiddos.

This content is intended for informational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment from an appropriately qualified and licensed physician or other healthcare provider.

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