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What is dehydration?
If your baby's dehydrated, it means that she doesn't have as much fluid in her body as she needs. Babies and children are more prone to dehydration than adults.
Dehydration can happen if your baby takes in less fluid than she loses through:
- Fever, or
Dehydration can be mild and easily corrected, but it can also be moderate, severe or even life threatening.
Dehydration symptoms in babies
Signs of mild to moderate dehydration.
Any of these signs could indicate that your baby is dehydrated or is becoming dehydrated:
- Plays less than usual
- Goes more than six hours without a wet diaper
- Urine that looks darker and smells stronger than usual
- A dry, parched mouth and lips
- No or fewer tears while crying
Signs your baby may be seriously dehydrated:
- Sunken eyes
- Hands and feet that feel cold and look splotchy
- Excessive sleepiness or fussiness
- Sunken fontanels (the soft spots on your baby's head)
- Wrinkled skin
- Urinates only 1 or 2 times a day
What should I do if my baby shows signs of dehydration?
If your baby shows signs of serious dehydration: Take him to the emergency room immediately. Babies can quickly become dangerously dehydrated, so it's important to act fast
If your baby shows signs of mild to moderate dehydration: Call your baby's doctor for advice. She may want to see him to make sure he's okay.
How is dehydration in babies treated?
If you baby is seriously dehydrated, he may need to receive liquids through an intravenous (IV) tube in the hospital until he's rehydrated.
If the doctor decides that your baby is mildly or moderately dehydrated, she may instruct you to give him more fluids. The type of fluid depends on age:
- Younger than 3 months: The doctor will probably suggest sticking with breast milk or formula but offering them more frequently than usual.
- 3 months or older: The doctor may recommend a special liquid – in addition to breast milk or formula – to replenish the water and salts (electrolytes) that his body has lost.
The doctor will also want to figure out why your baby is dehydrated and treat the underlying problem. For vomiting, for example, she may prescribe an anti-vomiting medicine. If your baby has diarrhea and the doctor thinks it's diet-related, she may recommend switching your baby to a different type of formula or making changes to your diet if your baby is breastfeeding.
Electrolytes for dehydration in babies
Do not give your baby electrolyte solutions for dehydration without first consulting with a doctor.
If your doctor does recommend electrolyte liquids, you can find them in most pharmacies. Pedialyte, Infalyte, and ReVital are some of the name-brand products. Ask your pharmacist about generic brands, too.
Your baby's doctor can give you instructions for using electrolyte liquids, based on your baby's weight and age. You can find general guidelines here from the American Academy of Pediatrics on the amount of total solution to give your child over 24 hours. For example, a 7-pound baby with mild diarrhea would need at least 16 ounces of electrolyte solution, while a 22-pound baby would need 40 oz. The fluid can be given slowly, sip by sip, teaspoon by teaspoon, using a spoon or syringe.
How can I prevent dehydration?
Make sure your baby is drinking plenty of fluids, especially on very hot days and when she's ill.
If your baby is younger than 6 months stick to breast milk or formula. However, if you're concerned about dehydration, talk with your baby's doctor about giving her small amounts of water.
If your baby is 6 months or older, continue to breastfeed or bottle-feed her. You can supplement with a little water – about 4 ounces per day until she's eating solid foods, at which point you can increase the amount.
Do not give your baby carbonated sodas, as they're terrible for her teeth and health. Juice is also not recommended for babies under 12 months.
Here's how to help prevent dehydration under these circumstances:
- Fever. Offer your baby plenty of liquids whenever she has a fever. If she seems to be having trouble swallowing, ask her doctor whether you can give her a pain medication such as children's acetaminophen or (if she's 6 months or older) ibuprofen, to help with the discomfort. (Never give a child aspirin, which is associated with a rare but serious condition called Reye's syndrome.)
- Overheating. Give your baby more fluids than usual during hot weather. Too much activity on a hot day or just sitting in a stuffy, sweltering room can lead to sweating and fluid loss.
- Diarrhea. If your baby has an intestinal illness, especially acute gastroenteritis, she'll lose fluid through diarrhea and vomiting. Don't give her fruit juice, which may just make the situation worse, and don't give her over-the-counter diarrhea medicine unless her doctor recommends it. Encourage your baby to drink extra breast milk or formula, and supplement with a little water once she's 6 months or older. If your baby is 3 months or older and you think she may be becoming dehydrated, you can give her an electrolyte drink as well.
- Vomiting. Viruses and intestinal infections can lead to vomiting. If your baby is having trouble keeping liquids down, she can easily become dehydrated. Try giving her very small amounts of fluid (primarily breast milk or formula as well as a little water if she's 6 months or older) frequently. Electrolyte liquids are helpful for babies 3 months or older who have been vomiting.
- Refuses to drink. A sore throat or ailment such as hand, foot, and mouth disease can cause so much pain that a baby sometimes stops drinking. Ask your doctor about giving your baby children's acetaminophen or ibuprofen (if she's 6 months or older) to ease the discomfort, and then offer her breast milk or formula and water, frequently and in small quantities.