Typically, your baby replaces all of her fluids each time she feeds — but if she’s losing more than she’s taking in, it could lead to dehydration

Dehydration is a serious condition where there are not enough fluids in the body, and it can be difficult to recognize in babies. Unless your infant has had vomiting or diarrhea (dead giveaways that they’re losing fluids), you may not realize that they’re dehydrated. The condition can become critical quickly.

“Consequences of severe dehydration can include rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, weakness, and even fainting.”

Consequences of severe dehydration can include rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, weakness, and even fainting, and of which might land your baby in the hospital. Knowing the symptoms, causes, and treatment of dehydration in newborns and infants can help prevent that from ever happening.

What is infant dehydration?

According to verywellfamily, your baby’s body is made up of roughly 75 percent water. Every day, your infant loses some of those fluids through urination, bowel movements, sweating, crying, and even breathing. Typically, the fluids are replaced through regular feedings — but sometimes, that’s not enough.

Some babies don’t get enough fluids through feeding for a variety of reasons (for example, they have a poor appetite and don’t drink enough, or you’re not producing enough breast milk to meet demand). When this occurs, and the infant isn’t taking in as much fluid as they’re putting out, dehydration can occur.

Dehydration symptoms

Dehydration symptoms typically become noticeable after two percent of a person’s normal water volume has been lost. For an adult, that might mean poor appetite, a sense of thirst, or even dry skin.

With a baby, it can be challenging to know what’s going on. After all, any parent can tell you that infants can have finicky appetites, to begin with. Conditions like dry skin and eczema are quite common.

“Unless your infant has had vomiting or diarrhea (dead giveaways that they’re losing fluids), you may not realize that they’re dehydrated.”

So, how can you tell if your baby is being cranky or if they’re dehydrated? Keep an eye out for signs such as unexplained irritability, warm skin, low urine output, urine that is dark in color, and crying with no tears. Another dead giveaway in infants and young toddlers is a sunken soft spot.

Moderate to severe dehydration

When dehydration moves beyond the mild stage, your baby will not only start to display more obvious symptoms, but they’ll be in far greater danger.

In addition to the regular signs of dehydration, an infant that is moderately to severely dehydrated will have sunken eyes, discolored hands and feet, wrinkled skin, and will likely be excessively sleepy and fussy.

At this point, it’s advised that you take your infant to the hospital and seek medical attention immediately, as severe dehydration can become fatal if not treated properly. It is important to note that giving them plain water, fruit juice, broth, or gelatin will likely do little to no good, as they don’t contain the right mix of sugars and salts needed to replenish the body.

Dehydration causes

Dehydration can have different causes depending on the age of your child. For example, newborns and very young infants are more likely to become dehydrated from not taking in enough fluid, while older infants and toddlers are more likely to become dehydrated as the result of an illness.

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Here are some common causes of dehydration in babies:

  • Fever, vomiting, and diarrhea, and a decreased ability to eat or drink due to a viral infection
  • Sores in the mouth which make it painful to eat or drink
  • A stuffy nose or earache, which can interfere with sucking and swallowing
  • Breastfeeding issues, such as poor latching, not feeding often enough, or poor milk supply
  • Bottle feeding issues, such as not being fed often enough or not taking enough at each feeding
  • Increased sweating from exposure to a hot environment
  • Excessive urination caused by diabetes mellitus

Treating infant dehydration

“Proper treatment of infant dehydration depends on your ability to recognize the symptoms early, identify the stage of dehydration, and implement the correct strategies.”

If symptoms are mild, you can often treat your baby at home. Steps will likely include offering the breast or bottle frequently, keeping track of wet diapers, and sometimes supplementing with a rehydration product such as Pedialyte. Always consult with a doctor to determine exactly what you should do.

For more severe dehydration, you should immediately take your infant to the emergency room, as IV treatment may be required.

Experts recommend seeking medical attention if your baby is under three months old and has a fever, is not feeding well, has a sunken soft spot, has vomited after two or more feedings in a row, or has had diarrhea for more than eight hours.

Preventing dehydration

“Newborns and very young infants are more likely to become dehydrated from not taking in enough fluid, while older infants and toddlers are more likely to become dehydrated as the result of an illness.”

Understanding how infant dehydration occurs can help you prevent a lot of the problems right up front. One of the most obvious measures you can take is to make sure your baby is getting enough fluids when they are sick or active. Other measures may include:

  • If your child has a sore throat, consider using acetaminophen or ibuprofen to ease pain and make eating and drinking easier
  • If a fever is making your child uncomfortable, try cold drinks or popsicles to help ease the pain while also providing fluids
  • Provide more fluids than usual during hot weather and when your infant is sweating
  • Offer a newborn one to three ounces of formula or breast milk every two to three hours (and don’t be afraid to wake them up to eat!)
  • Do not stop feeding your baby if they have vomiting or diarrhea

Final thoughts

Prevention is the best medicine — but even the best-laid plans sometimes go awry. If you notice any of the above symptoms (even if you’ve been doing all the right things!), call your pediatrician immediately. The sooner you treat your infant’s dehydration, the less likely there will be serious consequences.

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