A baby is considered dehydrated when it has lost more fluids than it can afford. The condition can vary between mild and easily corrected to severe and potentially life threatening. Babies are more prone to becoming dehydrated than adults because they are more susceptible to vomiting, diarrhea, fever and sweating, so it's up to you as a parent to keep an eye on your little one and make sure things don't get too serious. If you suspect that your child is dehydrated, contact your pediatrician right away for advice.
Signs to Watch Out For
The following signs could indicate that your baby is dehydrated or becoming dehydrated:
• A period of more than six hours without urination
• A dark and strong-smelling urine
• Lethargy and lack of energy and playfulness
• Dry, sticky mouth and lips
• No or little tears whilst crying
• Less elasticity in the skin
The below signs indicate severe dehydration; you should have your baby checked by your pediatrician immediately for proper care before the situation escalates into a life threatening condition:
• Sunken eyes
• Cold and blotchy hands and feet
• Excessive sleepiness or fussiness
• Sunken fontanels (also known as the soft spot), which are the soft membranous gaps on the baby's incompletely formed skull
Causes of Dehydration
Fever – A fevered child will lose plenty of body fluids through sweating and rapid breathing. If you notice that your baby is having trouble swallowing, ask your doctor to prescribe medication such as children's acetaminophen to help with the discomfort.
Overheating – Hot weather is a major factor behind dehydration; either actively playing or just sitting in a hot room will lead to sweating and fluid loss. Make sure your baby drinks more fluids on hot days.
Diarrhea – Babies with gastroenteritis and other intestinal illnesses tend to lose lots of fluids through diarrhea. Don't give your child fruit juice, as it might exacerbate its condition, and over-the-counter diarrhea medicine should never be administered unless your doctor specifically prescribes it. Simply have your baby drink more breast milk or formula, which you can supplement with some water if your baby is 4+ months old.
Vomiting – Your baby can easily become dehydrated if it can't keep its fluids down due to vomiting, which often happens when it is suffering from viruses or intestinal infections. Try giving it small amounts of liquids at frequent intervals. Electrolyte liquids in particular are good in this situation.
Refusing to drink or breastfeed – A sore throat or illnesses such as hand, foot and mouth disease can cause your baby pain in its mouth and throat, leaving it unable to drink. Your doctor can prescribe children's acetaminophen or ibuprofen to ease the discomfort.
Dealing with Dehydration
If you recognize signs of severe dehydration in your little one, talk to your doctor immediately. Your doctor may recommend that you give your baby a special electrolyte liquid to replenish the lost water and salts if the condition is mild, or might instruct you to take your baby to the emergency room in cases of extreme dehydration to have it checked and treated, and an intravenous (IV) tube may be used to give your baby the liquids it needs until it's properly rehydrated.
It's rare for exclusively breastfed babies to become dehydrated, but if you see signs of dehydration try to feed your baby more often.
Dehydration can be prevented by simply giving your baby plenty of fluids on a regular basis on hot days or when it is sick by breast- or bottle-feeding it. You can supplement the milk with a little water if your baby is already eating solid foods. If your baby drinks juice, dilute it with water. Never give your baby carbonated drinks, which ruin the teeth. Keep your baby out of the sun and in a cool place during hot days, but if your child must go out, make sure you have it drink liquids beforehand.