How to Identify and Treat Dehydration in Infants and Toddlers
Every year, dehydration results in 1.5 million outpatient visits, 200,000 admittances to the hospital, and 300 deaths of children in the United States. (AAFP) Dehydration can occur due to a combination of things, but in the summer, the concern is regarding too much activity in hot weather with insufficient fluid intake. “Infants and children are more likely to become dehydrated than adults because they weigh less and their bodies turn over water and electrolytes more quickly.” (NYT)
So let’s review the signs and symptoms of dehydration that you need to be on the lookout for, and then review the ways we can prevent and treat dehydration before it becomes serious.
Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration in Infants and Toddlers
Common signs and symptoms of dehydration in infants and toddlers include:
- Sleepiness & Lethargy
- No tears when crying
- Dry mouth and cracked lips
- More than 6 to 8 hours without a wet diaper
- Urine that is dark and smells strong
More serious signs are:
- Sunken eyes & fontanelle (soft spot on the top of the head)
- Cold feet and hands
- Blotchy looking skin
- Lightheadedness, dizziness, or delirium
- Excessive sleepiness or fussiness (BabyCenter.com)
- Skin turgor or lack of elasticity (where you pinch the skin and it doesn’t flatten right away)
How to Treat Dehydration in Infants and Toddlers
The most important treatment for dehydration, as with most things, is prevention.
- Limit outdoor activity on hot days to before 10 AM and after 4PM – this is when the sun is hottest.
- When you are outside, make sure your child has a wide-brimmed hat on, this will protect her from over exposure to direct sun and keep her from losing fluids.
- Take frequent fluid breaks. Don’t wait until your child indicates he or she is thirsty. Thirst is actually a sign of early dehydration.
- “For an infant who is breastfeeding or on formula, your regular schedule for feeding should give your baby adequate fluids and nutrition…. For a toddler, water or juice with all meals and snacks should provide enough fluids. A child will be better hydrated if he drinks throughout the day, rather than at one sitting.” (Van Groenou)
If you suspect your child is becoming dehydrated, your main goal is to get them rehydrated.
- Give fluids such as water and electrolyte replacement drinks (eg: Pedialyte, Infalyte, ReVital). These are often available in popsicle form which make it fun for kids to “take their medicine”. If your baby is very young, try administering it via dropper at a rate of two to three teaspoons every 15 minutes.
- Avoid sport drinks which contain high amounts of sugar, caffeinated or carbonated beverages, and fruit juice.
- Continue the child’s normal diet, including formula and breast milk. Add the BRAT “recipe” to maintain hydration levels: bananas, rice, applesauce, toast. Dry cereal and potatoes are also good.
- Keep your doctor informed as to your child’s symptoms and changes in behavior during this time.
Darlene Oakley is a freelance writer for EmpowHER.com.
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Dehydration: Sudden, silent, and very serious. Cody, Susan.
How to Stay Hydrated in High Heat and Humidity. Jones, Daemon.