Dehydration in Babies – Symptoms, Causes & Prevention

baby crying due to pain

If your baby is exposed to extreme temperatures or loses fluids due to vomiting or diarrhoea, she becomes a prime candidate for dehydration. This article showcases practical ways you can protect your baby from contracting this condition by reading the signs and symptoms and also treat dehydration while it is still mild.

Video: Dehydration in Babies – Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

What is Dehydration?

We all lose water from our body during the day in various forms i.e. through sweat, urine, stools and tears. This body fluid and its salts are replaced through the fluids we drink and the diet we follow throughout the day, thus helping us to hydrate our bodies to the required levels. Children can lose large amounts of fluids and salts through prolonged physical activity both indoors or outdoors through sweat. If your baby is unwell and has fever, diarrhoea or vomiting, it could be the reason for dehydration. Also, certain illnesses may make it difficult for them to drink water or other fluids which could lead to dehydration.

5 months old baby with dehydration

How Common is Dehydration in Babies?

When a baby does not take in enough fluids to compensate for the loss of fluid, dehydration could occur. Babies are more prone to dehydration than adults, especially when they are infected by a stomach virus or gastroenteritis. Since the baby’s tiny body is unable to store a lot of fluids, it can quickly lead to dehydration. A dehydrated baby can cause a lot of anxiety and worry for parents but if it is addressed while it is mild, it can be easily corrected and a serious condition can be avoided.

Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration in Newborn Babies

A sure-fire sign of dehydration in newborn babies is a reduction in the number of wet diapers and baby nappies. Dehydration impacts the entire body, hence keep a close watch on your baby’s activity levels as she may want to sleep more than she usually does. The common signs and symptoms of dehydration are as follows:

  • Dark and smelly urine
  • Lethargy
  • Six hours or more without passing urine
  • Dry lips and a parched mouth
  • Increased thirst

baby having water

  • Few or no tears
  • Headaches and dizziness

The following are signs of severe dehydration:

  • Sunken eyes
  • Excessive Irritability and sleepiness
  • Sunken fontanels (soft spots on a baby’s head)
  • Cold and spotted hands and feet

Causes for Dehydration in Babies

There are many reasons why your baby could be dehydrated and they are as follows:

1. Diarrhoea and Vomiting

A stomach virus like gastroenteritis could cause your baby to lose fluids which happens through diarrhoea and vomiting. Diarrhoea doesn’t allow your baby to retain any fluid in her bowels and the liquids cannot be kept down which dehydrates the baby quickly.

2. Fever

One of the most common causes of dehydration is a fever. Fever will make your baby will sweat a lot which leads to evaporation as the body cools down. The faster than normal breathing could cause even more fluid-loss through exhaling.

mother measuring fever of her sick child

3. Reduced Intake of Milk and Other Fluids

If your baby has a sore throat or if she is teething, she may refuse to breastfeed. Even a stuffy nose could keep her from taking in liquids and this could lead to dehydration.

4. Excessive Body Heat

If your baby is wearing too many layers of clothes or is placed in a stuffy room, it could lead to loss of fluids through sweat and thus become a cause of dehydration.

How Much Fluid does a Baby Need?

As a newborn, your baby will get all the fluid that she needs through breast milk or formula feed. At this point in time (till they are 6 months old), their activity levels are quite limited. As soon as they cross this threshold, you will introduce food in solid or semi-solid form and a little water can be fed from a cup. Diluted juice (1 part of juice to 10 parts of water) can help add to their intake of fluids. Sugary drinks, hot drinks and any kind of drinks that contain artificial sweeteners should be kept away from children till they are at least a year old.

Are There Any Tests to Diagnose Dehydration in Infants?

Tests to diagnose dehydration can be divided into Non-Laboratory evaluations and Laboratory Tests:

  • Non-Laboratory evaluations include urine output, breathing and heart rate, checking consciousness, skin dryness and checking if eyes appear sunken.
  • Laboratory Tests are generally conducted if the dehydration is severe and include CBC-Complete Blood Count, Urine Analysis, Stool culture for diarrhoea and Basic Metabolic Panel (BMP)

blood sample for CBC-complete blood count test

How Can You Treat Your Dehydrated Baby?

The primary aim of treading dehydration should be a quick replacement of depleted fluid levels in the body and restoring them to normal levels. The following steps should be taken:

  • Move your baby to a cool place and give her as much as plain water she might want to consume.
  • If your baby is recovering from mild or moderate dehydration because of diarrhoea from gastroenteritis, the lost fluids should be replaced through rehydration.
  • ORS – Oral Rehydration Solution is the ideal baby drink for dehydration that should be given over a period of 3 to 4 hours. This is a combination of salts and sugars that can help in rehydrating the baby quickly.

Oral Rehydration Salts Powder in pitcher

How to Prevent Your Baby from Dehydration?

Since prevention is the best cure, you can take care that your baby does not fall ill (which could lead to dehydration) and is not exposed to excessively hot conditions. Here’s how:

1. How to Prevent Dehydration Due to Illness?

Babies can lose large amounts of fluids in quick time when they are ill as it could lead to vomiting and diarrhoea. To keep these viruses away from your baby, it is best to use a good hand wash while handling the baby and also when there are friends and relatives visiting. Do not miss any of your doctor’s appointments and follow the immunization schedule for vaccines perfectly.

kid washing hands

2. How to Prevent Dehydration When It Is Hot Outside?

During summer, make sure your baby is dressed appropriately in light, breathable clothing. Keep her away from the sun and do not ever wrap her up in blankets or sweaters while she is asleep.

Dehydration is a common condition that affects newborn babies and if it is addressed properly by keeping a close watch on symptoms, you can prevent it and treat it too.

Also Read: Constipation in Babies