Is your baby or toddler adequately hydrated?


What to Know

  • Babies and toddlers are more prone to dehydration than adults
  • Signs and symptoms of dehydration in babies
  • When to call the doctor

Everyone knows our bodies need water and that we must stay hydrated to survive. But did you know that babies and toddlers really need water and are more prone to dehydration than adults? This is because:

  • Children utilize more fluid than adults, having a higher metabolic rate and water content
  • Children are more susceptible to vomiting and diarrhea, the leading causes of dehydration
  • Babies and toddlers can’t adequately communicate with us when they’re parched or thirsty, so dehydration can occur without us knowing
  • Many parents are unaware of the signs and symptoms of dehydration to prevent the issue in the first place

You can take a proactive approach to making sure your child is adequately hydrated by checking for early symptoms of dehydration such as more than 6 hours without a wet diaper, no tears while crying or a dry, parched mouth. More advanced symptoms of dehydration in your child can include irritability, excessive sleepiness or fussiness, urine that looks darker and smells stronger than usual, sunken eyes, hands and feet that feel cold and look splotchy, sunken fontanels (the soft spots on your baby’s head) or deep, rapid breathing with a high heart rate.

You can also assess your child’s level of hydration by performing one or both of these simple tests:

  1. The Pinch Test – pinch a small piece of skin on the back of your child’s wrist or hand and it should spring back to normal rapidly. If the skin ‘tents’ or indents briefly than he may be in the early stages of dehydration
  2. The Mucous Membrane Test – check your child’s mucous membranes for adequate moisture. For example, he should have tears when crying and his tongue and lips should be plump and moist with lots of saliva in his mouth

Note that healthy babies under 6 months old do not need extra supplemental liquids (such as water, juice, milk or non-dairy milk) because they receive adequate hydration and nutrients from breastmilk or formula or a combination. The time to introduce water to your baby should coincide with your introduction of solid foods at around 6 months. Between food feedings, you can begin introducing other liquids in a sippy cup, straw cup or open cup, especially if your baby seems thirsty. Try water or formula/breast milk in the cup. Juice is not recommended for children under 1.

What to Do

Give your child more fluids on hotter days

If your baby is not yet eating solids, offer breastmilk or formula more frequently. If your baby is eating solid foods, offer water several times a day between feedings. Stay attuned to signs of thirst or early symptoms of dehydration, as too much activity on a hot day or just sitting in a stuffy, sweltering room can lead to sweating and fluid loss.

Incorporate liquids into the eating schedule right along with meals and snacks

Older babies and children often eat meals and snacks on a set schedule every day. Include access to water for your baby at the established eating times and between meals.

Avoid carbonated sodas and limit fruit juice

It’s best to avoid carbonated sodas and other sugary drinks as they may negatively impact your baby’s teeth and overall health.

Fruit juice is not recommended for babies under 1. If your child is over one year, milk and water should still be the primary beverages, occasionally fruit juice can be given (but is not usually necessary), and not more than 4 ounces a day. Offer 100% fruit juice (can be watered down with equal parts water), with no added or artificial sugars.

Feed your child fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are full of water (not to mention also rich in fiber and nutrients!).

Take special care to prevent dehydration when your child is sick

If your baby has a fever, offer her more liquids than usual (such as plenty of breastmilk, formula, water or very diluted fruit juice). If she seems to be having trouble swallowing, ask her doctor whether you can give her a pain medication to help with the discomfort.

If your baby has diarrhea or an intestinal illness, encourage her to drink extra breastmilk, formula or water. If she is 3 months or older, you can also try offering a drink rich in electrolytes. Don’t give her fruit juice, as this will only make the situation worse. Check with her doctor before offering an over-the-counter diarrhea medicine.

If your baby is vomiting, try giving her small, frequent sips of liquids once her tummy settles down. Start with about 1 teaspoon every 10 minutes for a few hours. If all goes well, increase the amount to 2 teaspoons every 5 minutes. Offer breastmilk, formula, a drink rich in electrolytes (if your baby is 3 months or older) or water (if your baby is 6 months or older).

If your baby has a sore throat or hand, foot and mouth disease, provide her with more frequent opportunities to drink liquids, whether breastmilk, formula or water. Check with the doctor about giving your baby pain medication to ease her discomfort while swallowing.

Know when to seek medical attention

Babies can quickly become dangerously dehydrated, so if you think your baby is showing early symptoms of dehydration, call the doctor. If your baby is showing more advanced symptoms of dehydration, call 911 or take her to the emergency room immediately.