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Signs of Dehydration in Infants

Jennifer Kelly Geddes
April 17, 2015

Here's what you should know about keeping your baby hydrated and happy.

You work hard to feed your baby, but what if he's not getting enough to drink? Without enough fluid, a baby can't function properly. The signs of dehydration in infants can appear quickly and may be caused by a bout of sickness or because your baby refuses to eat (perhaps because of a sore mouth or aching gums due to teething).

"Kids can spiral downhill rapidly when they are ill, so by the time you notice any of the signs, your child may already be very dehydrated," says Dr. Jennifer Shu, an Atlanta pediatrician and the coauthor of Heading Home With Your Newborn.

Here's what you need to know to keep your baby healthy.

What Causes Dehydration?
A baby's body is small and can't retain a large store of fluids. That's why frequent feedings are critical to keep your infant well-hydrated and satisfied. Bundling up your baby in too many clothes, overheating your baby's room or coping with fever, diarrhea and/or vomiting can also result in dehydration in infants.

Follow the Feeding Schedule
Review these general guidelines for infant fluid intake, from Dr. Mayra Rosado, a lead pediatrician with HealthCare Partners in Torrance, Calif. (but don't worry if your baby eats a little more or less at each stage):

  • 0-1 month -- 2 to 4 ounces about 6 to 8 times a day
  • 1-2 months -- 3 to 5 ounces about 5 to 7 times a day
  • 2-3 months -- 4 to 7 ounces about 4 to 6 times a day
  • 3-4 months -- 5 to 8 ounces about 4 to 6 times a day
  • 4-6 months -- 6 to 8 ounces about 4 to 6 times a day
  • 6-8 months -- 6 to 8 ounces about 3 to 5 times a day
  • 8-12 months -- 6 to 8 ounces about 3 to 4 times a day

Signs of Dehydration in Infants
Obviously, if your baby nurses from the breast instead of using bottles, it's hard to tell how much she is getting, so keep an eye on her diapers. "Be on the lookout for a decrease in the number of wet diapers your baby produces. She shouldn't go longer than six hours without a wet one -- at least six in a 24-hour period is a good sign your baby is getting enough fluids," reports Dr. Rosado. Other signs include urine that smells strong and appears darker than the usual light yellow color, lethargy, decreased saliva (dry mouth, lips), no tears when crying, unusual irritability, sunken eyes and a sunken fontanel, the soft spot on your baby's head where the bones haven't yet fused together. If your feverish and formerly irritable baby is now quiet, limp and docile, she is probably dehydrated.

Call the Doctor
Contact your pediatrician immediately if you notice the above signs of dehydration in infants "or if you're concerned about dehydration, especially if your child is under 2 years of age," recommends Dr. Shu. A more severe case of dehydration may require intravenous fluids.

If your baby needs re-hydrating, your pediatrician will guide you. In mild cases, re-hydration can occur at home using an oral solution, such as Pedialyte, in small, frequent doses, says Dr. Rosado. The amount to give will vary based on your baby's weight and degree of dehydration. These solutions work better than plain water because they contain important electrolytes (glucose, sodium, chloride and potassium) that help to properly balance the levels in your baby's body. Do not give plain water, which lacks the crucial electrolytes, to your baby.

Be proactive and call your pediatrician if you have any questions or concerns.

Jennifer Kelly Geddes is a New York-based writer and editor who specializes in parenting, health and child development. She's a frequent contributor to Care.com and the mom of two teen girls.

* This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan. Neither Care.com nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.

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