How To Tell If Your Baby Is Dehydrated And What To Do About It

It’s important to know whether your baby is losing too much fluid or not taking in enough

It’s rather usual for babies to get dehydrated. However, dehydration can become a severe problem if it’s not sorted out quickly. Babies are susceptible to to fluid loss because they’re small. Sometimes, children lose large amounts of water and salts. This commonly happens when they have a fever, diarrhea, or vomiting, or through long periods of exercise with lots of sweating. And some illnesses can make it difficult for them to drink fluids. If they can't replenish the fluid that's been lost, they can become dehydrated.

Fever. Fever is one of the most typical causes of dehydration. When your baby has a fever, she sweats and water evaporates from her skin as her body tries to cool down. She also breaths faster than normal and loses more fluid by exhaling.

Overheating. Your baby can easily sweat and lose body water from being in the sun or being active on a hot day. She can also overheat and sweat from sitting in a stuffy, sweltering room. Her body can also overheat due to wearing too many layers.

Diarrhea and vomiting. If your baby has a stomach virus, such as gastroenteritis, she can lose fluids from diarrhea and vomiting. Your baby can’t take in fluids from her bowels if she has diarrhea, or keep liquids down if she’s being sick, which means she can easily dehydrate.

Refusing to drink or breastfeed. Your baby may be refusing to drink because she has hand, foot, and mouth disease, thrush, a sore throat, or because she’s teething. These can all make her mouth and throat sore, which can make it uncomfortable for your baby to drink.

Signs of dehydration

Any of these signs may mean your baby is dehydrated:

- dry skin or lips
- a sunken fontanelle (the soft spot on the top of your baby’s head)
- fewer wet nappies than usual
- sunken eyes
- tearless crying
- dark yellow urine
- lethargy and drowsiness
- rapid breathing
- cold and blotchy-looking hands and feet

How to treat dehydration

Consult your doctor as soon as possible if your baby is dehydrated. Your doctor may suggest these treatments:

Allow your baby to drink plenty of liquids such as breastmilk or formula. It may help to give her smaller amounts of milk more often. If your baby is formula-fed, don’t dilute her formula. Formula-fed babies and babies on solids can have extra water, too. Don’t give your baby fruit juices or carbonated drinks, particularly if your baby’s dehydrated because of diarrhea and vomiting.

Offer your baby sips of oral rehydration solution (ORS) a few times an hour alongside her usual breastmilk, or full-strength formula and water. An ORS will help to replace the fluids, salts and sugars your baby has lost.

If your baby isn’t drinking because she’s having trouble swallowing, give her infant paracetamol or infant ibuprofen to help ease her discomfort.

During hot weather, keep your baby in a cool place, out of the sun. Offer her plenty of drinks. If your baby is only breastfed, she won’t need extra water on a hot day. But if she is formula-fed or on solids, offer her water, too.

If your baby is very dehydrated, she may need to go to hospital for treatment. A doctor will give her fluids through a drip in her arm, or through tubes inserted via her nose. Severe dehydration is often a side-effect of other illnesses, such as gastroenteritis or respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia or bronchiolitis. 

However, rest assured that most cases of dehydration are not serious. Dehydration is common in babies, and can usually be treated at home on the advice of your doctor.

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