Caring for a sick baby - dehydration
How can I tell if my baby is dehydrated?
If your baby is dehydrated, it means she’s losing too much fluid or not taking in enough. It’s quite common for babies to get dehydrated. They are sensitive to fluid loss because they’re small. Dehydration can become a serious problem if it’s not sorted out quickly.
Any of these signs may mean your baby is dehydrated:
- dry skin or lips
- a sunken fontanelle (the soft spot on the top of your baby’s head)
- fewer wet nappies than usual
- sunken eyes
- tearless crying
- dark yellow urine
- lethargy and drowsiness
- rapid breathing
- cold and blotchy-looking hands and feet
If you think your baby is dehydrated, take her to the doctor the same day.
What could make my baby dehydrated?
There are several reasons why your baby may be dehydrated:
- Fever. Fever is one of the most common causes of dehydration. When your baby has a fever, she sweats and water evaporates from her skin as her body tries to cool down. She may also be breathing faster than normal and losing more fluid by exhaling.
- Overheating. Your baby can easily sweat and lose fluids from being in the sun or being active on a hot day. She can also overheat and sweat from sitting in a stuffy, sweltering room or because she’s wearing too many layers.
- Diarrhoea and vomiting. If your baby has a stomach virus, such as gastroenteritis, she can lose fluids from diarrhoea and vomiting. Your baby can’t absorb fluids from her bowels if she has diarrhoea, or keep liquids down if she’s being sick, which means she can quickly dehydrate.
- Refusing to drink or breastfeed. Your baby may be refusing to drink because she has hand, foot, and mouth disease, thrush, a sore throat, or because she’s teething. These can all make her mouth and throat sore. Sometimes having a stuffy nose or cold can also make it uncomfortable for your baby to drink.
How can I treat dehydration?
See your doctor as soon as possible if your baby is dehydrated. Your doctor may suggest these treatments:
- Offer your baby plenty of liquids such as breastmilk or formula. It may help to give her smaller amounts of milk more often. If your baby is formula-fed, don’t dilute her formula. Formula-fed babies and babies on solids can have extra water, too. Don’t give your baby fruit juices or carbonated drinks, particularly if your baby’s dehydrated because of diarrhoea and vomiting.
- Offer your baby sips of oral rehydration solution (ORS) a few times an hour alongside her usual breastmilk, or full-strength formula and water. An ORS will help to replace the fluids, salts and sugars your baby has lost.
- If your baby isn’t drinking because she’s having trouble swallowing, give her infant paracetamol or infant ibuprofen to help ease her discomfort. Your baby can have infant paracetamol from two months if she was born after 37 weeks and weighs more than 4kg (9lb). She can have ibuprofen if she is three months or older and weighs at least 5kg (11lb). Ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice if you’re unsure how much to give your baby.
- During hot weather, keep your baby in a cool place, out of the sun. Offer her plenty of drinks. If your baby is only breastfed, she won’t need extra water on a hot day. But if she is formula-fed or on solids, offer her water, too.
If your baby is very dehydrated, she may need to go to hospital for treatment. A doctor will give her fluids through a drip in her arm, or through tubes inserted via her nose. Severe dehydration is often a side-effect of other illnesses, such as gastroenteritis or respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia or bronchiolitis.
However, rest assured that most cases of dehydration are not serious. Dehydration is common in babies, and can usually be treated at home on the advice of your doctor.