Dehydration in Babies and Children and How to Treat it

What to do about dehydration in infants, toddlers, and kids


Dehydration can be a real problem when your child is sick, especially if they’re struggling to keep food and drink down.


When they’re unwell, making sure they get enough fluids is essential, and it will help both you and your child feel better in the long run.


If you’re worried about dehydration affecting your child, you’ve come to the right place, as we’re going to take a look at what dehydration means for children and what you can do to help.



What is dehydration?


Dehydration means that your body isn’t getting enough fluids, as it’s losing more than it’s taking in.


Dehydration can be particularly concerning in children and infants as their smaller bodies mean that losing water is a bigger deal to them than it is to adults.


The human body is made up of two-thirds water, so if your child is losing a lot of fluids when they’re unwell then it can be a real concern and you’ll need to get them hydrated as soon as possible.



What causes dehydration in babies and children?

Dehydration normally happens when your child is unwell and can’t keep down fluids or are passing fluids more quickly than usual.


This can happen when they have a stomach bug or another illness that causes symptoms that make your kiddo dehydrated.


Some of the most common causes of dehydration in babies, toddlers, and children include:


  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Sweating a lot
  • High temperature or fever
  • Heatstroke, which can happen if they’re out in the sun for too long
  • Takin medications that make them pee more



What are the symptoms of dehydration in infants and toddlers?


It can be difficult to work out whether infants and toddlers are dehydrated because they can’t exactly tell you that they need a good drink!


However, there are a few tell-tale signs to look for that will let you know that your little one is dehydrated and that you need to do something about it:


  • Few or no tears when they cry
  • Dry mouth, lips, or tongue
  • Tiredness or drowsiness
  • Dark yellow pee
  • Faster breathing than usual
  • A sunken soft spot on their head, also known as a fontanelle
  • Cold, blotchy-looking hands and feet


Is my toddler dehydrated if they have a dry nappy?


If a toddler or infant has a dry nappy for a long while, then it may be a sign that they’re not peeing as much as usual.


This could mean that they’re dehydrated and are struggling to pee.


If you’re worried that your little one hasn’t been peeing as often as they should, make sure to take them to see a doctor right away.



What are the signs of dehydration in children?


The signs of dehydration in children older than 5 are the same as those in adults.


The difference is that older children can let you know when they’re feeling thirsty more easily, so you can do something about it before things get too serious.


Some of the most common symptoms of dehydration you may notice in your child include:


  • Feeling thirsty
  • Headaches
  • Tiredness or drowsiness
  • Dark yellow pee
  • Going to the bathroom less than usual, especially if they’re going less than 4 times a day
  • Dry mouth, lips, tongue, or eyes
  • Dizziness or light-headedness



Are sunken eyes a sign of dehydration in babies?


Sunken eyes can be a sign of dehydration in babies, toddlers, and children.


When kids have sunken eyes, you’ll notice that the area beneath their eyes looks hollow and dark, like it’s sunken in.


Dark circles may be all too familiar to us adults, but if you notice dark circles underneath your child’s eyes then this could be a sign that they’re dehydrated, especially if they’re looking tired or fatigued.


Here’s an example of what sunken eyes look like in someone a little older (just in case you’ve been lucky enough to dodge them for yourself) so you can see what to look for in your little one.



How to treat dehydration in children


The best way to treat hydration in all children is to get them to drink plenty of fluids.


However, you shouldn’t just give them water, but should also give them some diluted fruit juice or squash to help them to replace the sugars they’ve lost with their fluids.


As well as this, a salty snack can help them to regain the salts they’ve lost, so it’s a good time to let them have a snack if they can keep it down.


One of the most popular ways to treat dehydration is to use oral rehydration treatments, including sachets and tablets, which can be used to make up a drink that replaces those lost fluids, salts, sugars, and minerals all in one.


They’re also available in a range of flavours, so you’ll be sure to find one that your kiddo won’t complain about drinking.


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How to treat dehydration in babies


The best way to treat babies and toddlers who are dehydrated is the same way you’d treat anyone else, make sure they get some fluids.


Try to keep their diet as normal as possible, especially if they’re old enough to be on solid foods.


Give them regular sips of water with their food to help them to rehydrate as they replenish their lost salts and sugars.


If you’re breastfeeding your baby or giving them bottles, try to feed them little and often, giving them smaller amounts than usual to help them keep it down until you can give them a little more.


Don’t dilute their formula, just give them what they’d usually take in smaller amounts and more often.


Don’t give small children sugary drinks to try and replenish their sugars, as this can make any diarrhoea or vomiting worse and make them even more dehydrated in the long run.


If your child is over 2, you can usually give them sips of oral rehydration treatments to help them get their fluid levels up.


If your child is younger than 2, you should only give them oral rehydration fluids if you’ve been told to by your doctor or pharmacist, as you may need to make the drink up slightly differently to make sure it’s suitable for your infant.




When should I take my child to the doctor?


If you think your baby or toddler is dehydrated, you should take them to see a doctor or to A&E right away.


Dehydration can be very serious in young children, so make sure you continue to try and make sure they’re drinking some fluids while you’re on the way to see the doctor.


You should also be sure to go straight to the doctor if your baby has had diarrhoea more than 6 times in the last 24 hours.


If your child is over 5, try to ease their dehydration with fluids and take them to see a doctor or pharmacist as soon as you can.


If they’re experiencing any symptoms of serious dehydration, such as dizziness, confusion, or a weak or rapid pulse, make sure to take them to A&E or call 999 right away.



Now you know what causes dehydration in children and what to look for if you’re worried that your little one is feeling dehydrated.


Remember, if you have any concerns about dehydration, take your child to see a doctor right away, it’s much better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your little ones’ hydration!


Laura Henderson - Medical Content Writer
James O'Loan - CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist
James O'Loan , CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist on 17 September 2021
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