Dehydration can range from mild to severe cases. It's important that you, as a parent, know the symptoms to look out for and how best to react.
What is dehydration?
Dehydration is the loss of water and essential salts the body needs to function. Babies are more prone to dehydration than adults. Severe dehydration can be dangerous, so it’s important to get a child rehydrated as soon as possible.
What causes dehydration?
Dehydration can often result from cases of fever, diarrhoea or vomiting, or simply when your baby isn’t taking in enough water or milk to replace lost fluids.
How do I know if my baby or child is dehydrated?
It is important to know the signs of dehydration, in both mild and severe cases, so you know what to do …
Signs to watch out for
- Lack of urine/wet nappies over the last 6-8 hours in an infant (or a small amount of dark yellow urine)
- Lack of urine/wet nappies over the last 12 hours in an older child (or a small amount of dark yellow urine)
- Your child is very thirsty
- The skin is cool and dry
- Dry or sticky mouth
- Few or no tears when crying
- The child’s eyes look sunken-in
- Lethargy or irritability
- Fatigue or dizziness in an older child
- The soft spot (or fontanelle) looks sunken-in
- If you gently pinch the skin on the back of the hand, it flattens back down slowly (in a hydrated child, it should snap back into place)
Note: Early stages of dehydration can have no visible symptoms at all, so if your child is vomiting or has diarrhoea, it is important to rehydrate even before dehydration symptoms become noticeable.
How to get your child rehydrated
For mild dehydration, rehydration sachets are often recommended. This is an oral solution that you dissolve in boiled, cooled water, which improves hydration and replenishes lost electrolytes, and can be requested from your local chemist. If your child is under 12 months old, consult your GP first.
Give your child fluids in frequent, small measures, and through a cup if possible. If your child has been vomiting, initially give a 5ml spoonful of oral rehydration solution every three to five minutes. As the child’s condition improves, you can begin to offer larger amounts. You can also freeze an oral solution and offer in the form of an ice-lolly or try the flavoured varieties if your child is over one year old.
If your child is greatly dehydrated, he or she may need to be admitted to hospital, where an IV may be administered. If you are at all concerned about your child, contact your GP.
Do NOT give your child …
- Sugary drinks – these can often worsen diarrhoea.
- Fizzy drinks (that includes flattened 7 UP) – these drinks are very high in sugar and are not remedies for dehydration.
When can I reintroduce solid foods?
As soon as possible, even if your child is still experiencing diarrhoea. Restricting food can actually prolong diarrhoea and slow down the recovery of the gut. However, avoid fatty or sugary foods. Good foods to begin with include bananas, rice, toast, dry cereals and potatoes.
Preventing dehydration in babies
Babies can often become dehydrated in warm weather or when they’re ill. The method by which you increase their fluid intake and therefore avoid dehydration depends on whether your baby is breast or bottlefed …
Breastfed babies generally don’t need extra fluids – their mother’s milk usually provides all the fluid they need. The milk produced at the start of a feed quenches the baby’s thirst, and as the feed progresses, richer milk is produced, satisfying the baby’s hunger. Offering water only disturbs this balance, so the best thing to do during warm weather is to continue to breastfeed.
If your baby is ill – experiencing fever, vomiting or diarrhoea – simply breastfeed more. Your milk supply will meet your baby’s demand and provide all the fluid needed until he or she gets better.
If you happen to be ill and your milk is in short supply, you may need to give your baby water. This should be boiled and cooled and can be given through a cup, spoon or bottle. If you’re so ill, you’re unable to breastfeed, your baby will need to be given formula until you are better. If you can express your milk, this will help keep your milk supply up and your baby can then be given your milk.
Formula fed babies
Formula fed babies are more at risk of dehydration, because formula contains more salt than breast milk. Often babies will reach for their bottle out of thirst and not hunger. For this reason, you should offer your baby water that’s been boiled and cooled in between feeds and more often in hot weather or if he or she is ill.
Preventing dehydration in older children
As your child grows older, it is best to encourage him or her to drink plenty of water throughout the day and build on a good routine of opting for water over juice or sugary drinks.
Always be sure your child brings along a drink when taking part in sports or physical activities.
When the weather is warm, be sure to offer more fluids. If your child has a fever, is congested or has diarrhoea or vomiting, offer plenty of fluids and watch out for signs of dehydration.