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How to Spot & Prevent Dehydration in Babies

How to Spot & Prevent Dehydration in Babies

Your baby’s little body can’t store a lot of fluids, so they can easily become dehydrated. Know the basics so you can keep your little one safe.


Until baby is about 5 or 6 months old (when she begins eating solid foods), your baby gets all the liquids (and nutrients) she needs just from breast milk or formula. That means there’s no need to give her water or juice if she’s exclusively breastfed just to keep her hydrated, even if it’s hot outside. If formular fed, offer water.

Once baby has started solids, small amounts of fluids will start to come from other sources, such as juice and juicy fruits and vegetables, as well as, of course, from sips of water. As the quantity of formula or breast milk your baby takes begins to decrease, it’s important to be sure that baby’s total fluid intake doesn’t. And in hot weather fluid intake should increase, so offer more water and fruit juices with water when temperatures soar — which means it’s especially important to take plenty of fluids with you on any family outings.


When it’s hot outside, the most important step to preventing dehydration in your baby is by protecting her from extreme weather in the first place — which means ensuring she stays out of the sun (a good practice anyway to safeguard that delicate skin) and dressing her in light, breathable clothing. And never bundle her up in blankets while she’s sleeping (important, since overheating at nighttime has been linked to SIDS).


The most likely scenario for dehydration in babies is when they’re sick: Your baby can lose lots of fluids quickly if she’s vomiting, has diarrhea or refuses to eat (sometimes due to a sore throat or mouth). Usually these symptoms are caused by a virus — and although you can’t prevent your baby from getting the occasional cold or flu, good hand washing definitely helps (remind your caregiver too). So does staying up-to-date with your child’s well-baby visits and immunizations, since there is a vaccine for rotavirus — one of the most common causes of severe diarrhea in infants and toddlers — which your baby can get at 6 to 8 weeks old.


If your baby is vomiting (not just spitting up small amounts of milk), has diarrhea or has otherwise been ill, or if you’ve been outside in hot weather for a prolonged amount of time, you should watch carefully for signs of dehydration.

Call the doctor within 12 hours if you note any of the following signs of dehydration in your baby:

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  • Fewer than six wet diapers in 24 hours or diapers that stay dry for two or three hours, which might be a sign that urinary output is unusually scant
  • Urine that appears darker yellow and more concentrated
  • Dry mucous membranes (you might notice cracked lips)
  • Tearless crying
  • Skin seems dry and slack (doesn’t bounce back when gently pressed)
  • Sunken eyes
  • Listlessness
  • Sunken fontanel – the “soft spot” on the top her head

In extreme cases, babies need treatment right away and may require rehydration with intravenous (IV) fluids. Go to your child’s doctor or the emergency room immediately if you notice your baby:

  • Has not made a wet diaper for six or more hours
  • Is extremely fussy
  • Is unusually sleepy
  • Has cold and/or splotchy-looking hands and feet
  • Has very dry mucous membranes (dry mouth, cracked lips, dry eyes)


Even if your breastfed or formula-fed baby is throwing up or has diarrhea, continue to offer breast milk and/or formula regularly — at least as often as usual, if not more.

For older babies who have started solids, water may be sufficient in mild cases. If there’s substantial fluid loss, especially if baby has a combination of diarrhea and vomiting, your child’s pediatrician may also recommend offering older babies liquids for electrolyte replacement (i.e., drinks such as Pedialyte) to replace sodium and potassium lost in diarrhea and/or small amounts of water. Make sure you follow your doctor’s advice about how and when to give these.

Source: whattoexpect

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