Dehydration In Infants: How to Keep Your Baby Hydrated

Dr. Lauren Motto, PharmD

Being a new parent or caretaker can be just as exciting as it is daunting. To help with a bit of that anxiety, here are some tips to keep your baby hydrated.

Recognizing The Signs of Dehydration in Babies

Did you know that babies are at a higher risk for dehydration than most adults? Infants cannot access fluids themselves, and biologically babies are at increased risk for water loss. Babies have a 10% higher percentage of body water than adults, higher metabolic rates, and an increased surface area to body mass index.

At the same time, everyone is at risk of dehydration. The difficulty with recognizing this in babies often comes down to communication. Why? The difference between a 6-year-old and a 6-month-old is that the older child can articulate that they are thirsty while the baby cannot.

Babies cannot specify when they are feeling the signs and symptoms associated with mild to moderate dehydration. They can’t explain common symptoms like:

      • Increased thirst
      • Headaches
      • Sticky or dry mouth
      • Fatigue
      • Lethargy
      • Dizziness
      • Irritability

Additionally, infants often do not exhibit clinical signs of dehydration until they lose approximately 5% of their body weight, or when they are reaching more severe levels of dehydration.

How to Tell if Your Baby is Dehydrated

A baby who is dehydrated may appear to have sunken eyes or soft spot on the front of the head, called the fontanel, no tears are produced when crying and mucous membranes are dry or sticky, and the baby is more lethargic or fussy than usual. Dark urine or a decreased urine output is also seen.

Typically, less than 4 wet diapers over a 24-hour period for infants or no urine in over 8 hours for older children indicate dehydration. These numbers, how many wet diapers and measure of urine output, will vary based on your infant’s normal habits from day to day, but they do act as a general guideline. If your baby ever appears limp or listless, or you are unsure of their condition, bring your baby to their physician immediately.

The Best Way to Keep Your Baby Hydrated

Keeping babies hydrated starts off with adequate feedings. Be sure to breast or bottle feed your baby as instructed by your physician. If fever, hot weather, illness, or feeding difficulties occur, be sure to use an oral rehydration solution to replace lost water and electrolytes. How should you have a baby rehydrate with the ORS? It depends on the product’s instructions. Many recommend how to provide the baby with ORS during the first 6 hours and then for the 24-hour period. The important thing is if and when your baby is dehydrated that you are replacing both water and electrolytes with an age appropriate drink.

Be sure to keep your baby in a controlled temperature environment to prevent overheating. Dressing the baby appropriately for the weather conditions and providing them with shade in the sun is important. And of course, always talk to your doctor with questions.