Is My Baby Dehydrated? What You Need to Know About Treatment and Prevention
Whether nursing or bottle-feeding, infants consume only fluids during the first few months of life. Even as toddlers, you’ll rarely find a little one far from their sippy cup. But those tiny bodies aren’t designed to store much liquid at one time, thus making dehydration a situation that can occur quickly. When a baby or toddler becomes dehydrated, it means that they’ve lost too much fluid and can’t consume enough to replace it immediately. This can be extremely dangerous if left untreated.
Signs of Dehydration in Babies
The signs of dehydration may depend on just how much fluid your baby has lost. If you suspect your baby is dehydrated, you may notice some of the following symptoms:
- Little to no interest in playing
- Fewer wet diapers (for infants, fewer than six wet diapers per day)
- Parched, dry mouth
- Fewer tears when crying
- Sunken soft spot on the infant’s head
- Loose stools (if dehydration is caused by diarrhea); decreased stools or constipation (if dehydration is due to vomiting or lack of fluid intake).
You may also notice the following:
- fast breathing
- fast heart rate
- cold or discolored hands and feet
- wrinkly skin
- excessive sleeping or lethargy
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Causes of Dehydration in Babies
When babies are first born, they may have trouble consuming milk or formula. Challenges with swallowing and digesting milk can contribute to a bit of weight loss during a baby’s first week of life. There are a number of issues that may also contribute to dehydration in newborns. These may include:
- low breast milk supply
- excessive vomiting or spitting up
- difficulty latching to a nipple or inability to suck effectively
- incorrect balance of water and electrolytes in the breast milk or formula (rare)
For older babies and toddlers, dehydration is often a result of illness, food intolerance, or allergies. Each of these issues can lead to a temporary episode of dehydration:
Treatments for Dehydration in Babies
When it comes to treatment, the bottom line is that you need to get more fluids into your baby’s system. There are a number of ways to treat your baby’s dehydration depending on what’s causing it and the age of your child.
Nurse often, even if your newborn baby hasn’t quite gotten the hang of latching. Let your baby try to nurse and stop for a while if they get upset. Try again in about 15 minutes. Breastfeeding takes lots of practice for both mom and baby.
Try various formulas
It takes time for some babies to acclimate to digesting milk. Spitting up and vomiting a bit is normal. If you’re formula feeding, sample a different brand to see if it works better for your infant.
Use a different delivery method
If you’re dealing with a low milk supply or aren’t able to breastfeed, try something else. Mix up some baby formula or try using a breast pump. Try using a sterile dropper, a baby bottle, or even a very small baby spoon to carefully feed your little one milk.
Harmony Breast Pump with PersonalFit Flex is a single, manual breast pump designed for occasional time away from your baby. Small enough to fit into a handbag and with no need for batteries or wires. It is perfect for moms who pump occasionally and need a lightweight travel companion.
Cool them down
If fever is the culprit behind your baby’s or toddler’s dehydration, consider gently sponging them in lukewarm water. For little ones who sweat at night, keep them dressed in lightweight, breathable clothing and turn down the thermostat before bed.
Give them hydrating foods
Juicy veggies and fruits are another great way to get water into an older baby or toddler. Watermelon, cucumbers, and plums are excellent choices. Remove peels and cut them into manageable pieces or place them inside a mesh teether.
Freeze icy treats
Let your toddler or older baby suck on a frozen fruit or juice pop.
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When to Contact the Pediatrician
Dehydration can progress quickly because of an infant’s tiny size. Contact your pediatrician right away if you notice symptoms or if your baby can’t feed from a breast or bottle. Your doctor may be able to diagnose any underlying health issues that could be contributing to the problem. For projectile vomiting or a rectal temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher in newborns, call your pediatrician immediately.
Your doctor may recommend an electrolyte solution for an older baby or toddler. They may also check your baby’s breathing, blood pressure, pulse, and temperature to investigate whether the dehydration has caused any other issues. Severe dehydration may require hospitalization with intravenous fluids.
How to Prevent Dehydration in Babies
Most children experience a little dehydration from time to time, but there are steps you can take to keep it from becoming severe.
Keep in mind that newborns have a very tiny stomachs, no bigger than a toy marble (about 1 to 2 teaspoons). Consequently, they need frequent, regular feedings – about 8-12 times or more every 24 hours. This can be challenging in the early days and weeks of having a new baby at home. Keep a journal or make written notes to help yourself keep track of how much your baby is consuming.
It also helps to keep an eye on what’s coming out. You may want to keep a log of your baby's diapers in a notebook or using a smartphone app. Poop consistency matters as well. Watery or explosive stools could indicate diarrhea and additional fluid loss. Very hard, dry bowel movements may indicate your baby is already a little dehydrated. Either way, it’s a sign that your baby needs an extra bottle or nursing session.
The OXO TOT Transitions Straw Cup with Removable Handles has an almond-shaped, spill-proof straw that conforms to your tot’s mouth and minimizes mess, easing the transition from bottle, breastfeeding, or sippy cup.
Babies are especially vulnerable to dehydration due to their tiny size. Illnesses that involve diarrhea or vomiting can cause dehydration. It can also be the result of not taking in enough fluid during regular feeding sessions. Dehydration can escalate quickly so prompt treatment is essential. Contact your doctor immediately if your little one has a high fever or their symptoms are progressing.
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