Babies are on a purely liquid diet for the first few months of life, whether you breastfeed or bottle-feed. Even after that, your baby or toddler may seem perpetually attached to their sippy cup! So, it may be surprising that babies can sometimes get dehydrated, just like adults.
Dehydration means that your baby has lost too much water and isn’t able to drink enough fluid (milk) to replace it right away. Their small size makes it easier for babies and toddlers to lose water and get dehydrated. In serious cases, dehydration can be dangerous for babies if left untreated.
Here’s what to know about dehydration in newborns, babies, and toddlers.
Signs and symptoms of dehydration can vary depending on how much water loss your baby has. They may also be different in newborns, babies, and toddlers.
Common signs of dehydration in newborns include:
- sunken soft spot on the top of the head
- sleeping too much (more than normal for even a baby!)
- sunken eyes
- crying with little or no tears
- cold or discolored hands and feet
- wrinkly skin
Common signs of dehydration in babies and toddlers include:
- doesn’t feel like playing
- tired or cranky
- a dry diaper for 6 hours or longer
- sunken eyes
- crying with few or no tears
- a dry mouth
- constipation or hard or fewer bowel movements (if the dehydration is from not drinking enough water)
- cold hands
- fast breathing
- fast heart rate
Newborns often have a few hiccups when they first learn how to get milk. They may also have difficulty swallowing and digesting milk. Problems with latching on and getting milk are so common that in fact, these are a couple reasons why babies lose weight in their first week of life.
So some of the causes of dehydration in newborns are:
- baby not being to latch on to a nipple properly
- low breast milk supply initially
- baby not being able to suck milk from a nipple or bottle adequately
- baby spitting up or vomiting too much
- breast milk not the right balance or mix of water and salts (a very rare cause of dehydration in newborns)
Causes in babies and toddlers
Older babies and toddlers have pretty similar causes of dehydration. They’re most likely to get dehydrated when they’re feeling unwell. The flu, stomach viruses, and food intolerance or allergies can all lead to a temporary bout of dehydration.
Causes of dehydration in babies and toddlers include:
Treatments and remedies for your little one’s dehydration depend on the cause and on how old your baby is.
If your newborn isn’t yet latching on properly, keep trying to breastfeed at regular intervals. Let your baby try to latch on and then take a break when they get tired. Try to breastfeed again after 15 minutes or so. They’ll get the hang of it soon!
Try bottle or dropper feeding
If your newborn is unable to breastfeed or you’re not yet making enough milk, try different ways to deliver the milk. Pump breast milk or make baby formula. Use a bottle, sterile dropper, or a teeny baby spoon to gently feed your baby milk.
Sample different formulas
Spitting up and even vomiting is normal for babies as they get used to digesting milk. If you’re formula feeding, try a different formula to see if your baby likes it better. You might be able to help your baby spit-up less with these tips.
For night sweats, dress baby in light clothing
If your baby or toddler sweats at night or when they sleep, dress them in breathable clothing, choose lighter bedding, and turn down the thermostat, to keep them from overheating at night.
For fever, give a sponge bath
If your baby or toddler has a fever, you might try sponging them down in lukewarm water. Also consider these tips to help bring the fever down.
Make iced treats
You can trick your toddler into getting more liquid by letting them suck on an iced treat. Make your own sugar-free kind by freezing puréed fruit and juice.
Offer juicy foods
You can also let them eat their water. If your baby or toddler is fussy about drinking water or milk, give them juicy fruit and vegetables like watermelon, plums, or cucumbers.
Babies and toddlers can get dehydrated quickly because of their small size. Newborns have such tiny stomachs that they can’t hold much milk at a time. Call your doctor if you notice any symptoms of dehydration. It can get serious fast.
Let your doctor know right away if your newborn baby isn’t able to suck from the breast or a bottle or if they’re not able to hold any milk down and are spitting up and vomiting a lot. They may have an underlying health condition that’s stopping them from drinking milk normally.
Your doctor may recommend meeting with a breastfeeding or lactation specialist. They can help your baby latch on and drink properly.
If you have a newborn or a baby younger than 3 months, call your doctor immediately if they have a rectal temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher. If your baby or toddler is projectile vomiting, always call your doctor.
For serious dehydration, your little one may need treatment in a hospital. They’ll be given fluid with a bottle or a tube that goes from their nose into their stomach. They might also get fluid from a tube that goes into a vein (IV).
Your doctor might recommend an electrolyte solution like Pedialyte for your older baby. This kind of formula has extra salts and other nutrients that babies and toddlers need when they lose too much water.
Your doctor will also check their health, including their breathing, blood pressure, pulse, and temperature to make sure the dehydration hasn’t caused any side effects.
You won’t always be able to prevent your baby or toddler from getting a little dehydrated. It happens, just like diarrhea and projectile vomit happen! But you can help prevent your little one’s dehydration from getting too serious.
Remember your newborn has a stomach the size of a grape that slowly grows a bit bigger. This means that they can only drink a few teaspoons of milk at a time and need lots of regular feedings. Your newborn will need about nine feedings in a 24-hour period.
It can be difficult to stay on top of all the feedings and everything else at first. Keep track of how much milk your little one is getting with a feeding schedule.
Equally important is what comes out the other end. How much your baby poops or wets their diaper is a good sign of how much water is going in. Keep count of how often you have to change your baby’s diaper.
Also check what your baby’s poop looks like. Very watery or explosive poops might mean your baby has diarrhea and is losing water. Dry, hard poops might mean your baby is a bit dehydrated. Both kinds of poops mean it’s time to give your little one an extra feed or more.
Babies and toddlers can sometimes get a little dehydrated because of their small size. This can happen when they lose water too quickly from vomiting or diarrhea. Dehydration can also happen when babies aren’t getting enough liquids through normal feeding.
Serious dehydration can happen quickly and is dangerous for babies and toddlers. Call your doctor right away if your baby has a high fever or if they have any symptoms of dehydration.