Dehydration in Babies: Signs and Remedies

Babies are vulnerable to water loss which may result from excessive sweating, diarrhea, vomiting, fever, heat exposure and low fluid intake. Dehydration in babies can quickly develop into a life-threatening situation not only from loss of body fluids, but also due to an imbalance in their electrolytes. Unlike adults who can drink water when they feel thirsty, babies can’t compensate for their water loss quickly. Thus it’s vital for parents to recognize the signs of dehydration.

What Are Signs of Dehydration in Babies?

Signs of mild dehydration include:

  • dry mouth
  • crying with no tears
  • irritability
  • lethargy
  • dry diapers for six or more hours

Signs of severe dehydration:

  • cool, dry or blotchy skin
  • unusual sleepiness or irritability
  • sunken fontanelle, eyes and cheeks
  • fast or weak pulses
  • deep and rapid breathing
  • muscle contractions

Bring your baby to the doctor immediately if he/she:

  • can’t be waken
  • has high fever
  • is constantly vomiting or unable to keep fluidsdown
  • has bloody stools
  • has severe stomachache pain
  • has not improved over 24 hours

What to Do If My Baby Shows Signs of Dehydration

1. Offer Oral Rehydration Solution

Doctors usually advise using an oral solution like Pedialyte to treat dehydration in babies who have fever, diarrhea or vomiting. These rehydration solutions contain water and electrolytes to help replenish the body and improve digestion. These products are available in most drugstores, so start giving these fluids early on instead of waiting for the situation to worsen. Follow your doctor’s advice regarding the amount and interval of feedings.

2. Continue to Breastfeed

Aside from the oral rehydration fluids, your baby will benefit from breastfeeding or lactose-free baby formula. This will provide the nutrients he needs. However, do not dilute the formula unless you are instructed to do so.

3. Avoid Certain Drinks

Avoid giving your child plain water, sweetened drinks, fruit juices, regular milk, sports drinks or any caffeinated beverages since they don’t provide essential electrolytes or the ones they replace are only those lost through sweating. Some of them may even make his symptoms worse.

4. Seek Medical Help

You may not be sure about whether your baby is moderately or severely dehydrated, so if your baby seems to be sicker than usual, it is best to call a doctor. In the clinic or hospital, doctor will request for blood tests to check your baby’s electrolyte levels. Intravenous fluids may be used to rehydrate your baby. It is not unusual for some babies to be fed through a nasogastric (NG) tube which is inserted through the nose and into the child's stomach for food and fluid administration.

How to Prevent Dehydration in Babies

1. Maintain a Good Hydration Routine

Always make sure that your baby is taking plenty of fluids, especially on hot days or when she is ill. Continue breastfeeding or bottle-feeding her. Six-month-old babies and older children can be given some water -about 4 ounces daily- until they are able to tolerate solid foods. Ask your doctor about giving small amounts of water to younger babies.

2. Take Care of What Your Baby Drinks

Avoid giving your baby sweetened drinks or carbonated sodas which can harm their teeth as well as their health. Dilute your baby’s juice with water. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting a baby's juice intake to four to six ounces daily.

3. Be Alert for Risk Factors of Dehydration in Babies

  • Overheating

During hot weather, your baby will need more fluids than usual. Furthermore, having too much activity or sitting in a warm and stuffy room can result in sweating and excessive fluid loss.

  • Fever

When your baby has fever, it is best to offer her plenty of fluids. If she has trouble swallowing, ask the doctor for a pain medication for infants to help ease discomfort. Avoid giving aspirin which can lead to a rare, but serious condition known as Reye's syndrome.

  • Diarrhea and Vomiting

Acute gastroenteritis can cause massive fluid losses through vomiting and diarrhea. Give electrolyte solutions for babies older than 3 months if they have been vomiting. Avoid giving her over-the-counter medicines unless the doctor recommends them.

  • Sore Throat

Babies usually have difficulty swallowing when they have a sore throat. Ask your doctor if you can give your baby pediatric strength acetaminophen/ibuprofen to reduce the discomfort. Offer breast milk or formula in small amounts as frequently as tolerated.