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Babies and Children: how to detect the signs of dehydration


The weather is getting hotter. Find out how to detect the warning signal of children’s dehydration

Infants are made of more water than adults: their body is composed of 75% of water vs. 60% for adults. They are particularly vulnerable to water and electrolyte imbalance for several reasons (1-2):

  • They have a higher surface to body weight ratio, allowing for greater losses from the skin
  • They have a limited capacity to concentrate their urine

It’s difficult for adults to identify when the baby is thirsty (unusual crying) : they are most likely to develop diarrhea. Even if most parents understand what dehydration is, too many of them do not know the signs of infant dehydration. When unattended, it can get worse and lead to a critical state because of insufficient water intake.

The warning signals for an infant being dehydrated (2-3)

Dehydration ranges from mild to severe. Infant being mildly to moderately dehydrated is thirsty, restless, lethargic or even drowsy. His diapers are not wet for three hours (less urination), and he will have few or no tears when crying. Severe dehydration signs include sunken fontanel (the soft spot on the top of the baby’s head), extreme fussiness or sleepiness, little or no urination – any urine that is produced will be dark yellow or amber, and no tears when crying.
Call your doctor immediately:if your baby develops signs and symptoms of severe dehydration

In case of great heat, infants who are not hydrated enough can get dehydrated in a few hours. Do not wait before you react! If you attend this problem, everything will be fine. But if you don’t hydrate him, his state can lead to hospitalization, involving perfusion to hydrate him quickly and efficiently. But you don’t need to get to this point: be prepared to hydrate him well.

How to properly hydrate your infant and children? (4)

boy drinking waterAccording to Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, an infant needs about 700 ml of water per day, mainly brought by milk from birth to 6 months, and from 6 months to 1 year, 800 ml of water per day mostly brought by the baby milk (600 ml).

  • Between 1 and 3, children need approximately 900 ml of liquid per day. As milk stays a major element of their alimentation at this stage of life, it is important to complete this amount by giving them drinking water.
  • At age 4 and more, the amount of water needed to stay properly hydrated increases progressively and vary according to age and sex among other factors. An advice: don’t wait for thirst to keep up with your water intake. Drink water regularly throughout the day.

In times of great heat, increase these basic needs. These are a few pieces of common sense advice to avoid infant dehydration:

  • Make sure that the infant has enough milk: until 6 months old, 4 to 5 nursings per day or 4 bottles of powder baby milk.
  • Prepare his bottles the right way: first water, then powder milk doses (and not the other way round!)
  • Propose bottles of water to the baby, between nursing or milk bottles when it is appropriate.
  • The water should have a low mineral content and sugar-free.
  • Don’t keep the water bottle at room temperature or in the heat all day. Put it in the refrigerator and give fresh water regularly during the day.

If he’s crying although he ate and that his diapers are clean, it means he’s thirsty: give him water!
If the child also has diarrhea, call your doctor and give the child oral rehydration
No sun or heat exposure!
An infant can very quickly be affected by hyperthermia. To avoid this:

  • Never leave him in the sun, or worse, in a car
  • Outside, make him wear a little hat and lightweight cotton clothing
  • Ventilate the room and cool it down (close the shutters during the day and open the windows at night.)
  • Don’t hesitate to give him fresh baths during the day

As a conclusion, don’t forget to propose water regularly throughout the day and between milk bottles, especially during the summer

1-     Jéquier E, Constant F. Water as an essential nutrient: the physiological basis of hydration. Eur J Clin Nutr 2010; 64: 115–123.
2-     D’Anci KE et al. Hydration and cognitive function in children. Nutr Rev 2006; 64: 457–464.
3-     Mayoclinic. Dehydration.       
4-      Dietary Reference Intakes. The essential guide to nutrients requirements. Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, Washington DC, 2006

9 Responses to Babies and Children: how to detect the signs of dehydration

  1.' Gbenga says:

    want to know all about water.

  2. Lovely Article. Learned so much about water.

  3.' june p says:

    water is good for all who is living

  4.' Maria McComb says:

    Great write up, its extremely important to keep babies and kids always hydrated!

  5.' babykitted says:

    Very informative and helpful, thank you! I always carry a bottle of water with me and it helps, because I always remember I have to drink water. I drink around 5L a day with it.

  6.' Tamilfms says:

    Very informative and helpful, thank you!

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