What is Dehydration?
The body needs a good amount of fluids and balanced electrolytes to function properly. Diarrhea, vomiting, excessive sweating, fever, exposure to heat, insufficient fluid intake, and drinking diuretics (fluids that cause excess urination, like caffeinated sodas), can lead to loss of fluids and an imbalance of electrolytes like sodium and potassium If these fluids are not regularly replenished, you begin to see signs of dehydration.
Babies are particularly vulnerable to becoming dehydrated because they do not have the same reserves that an older child or adult has when they lose fluids. Thirst, which acts as a powerful signal to the body to replenish fluids is less helpful to a baby who is dependent on adults to get him what he needs.
For infants, dehydration can develop quickly and even become life threatening if not treated properly. As a parent, it is important to learn to recognize the signs of dehydration.
What Are Signs of Dehydration?
Signs of mild dehydration in an infant include:
- a dry, sticky mouth
- few or no tears when crying
- crankiness or irritability
- no wet diapers for six hours or more
Signs of serious dehydration include:
- dry mouth and tongue
- dry, cool, blotchy skin
- irritability or unusual sleepiness
- sunken eyes, cheeks, or fontanelle
- deep and rapid breathing
- fast and weak pulse
- muscle cramps or contractions
Also, if you gently pinch the skin on the back of a dehydrated child's hand, it flattens slowly when released.
When Should You Get Help?
As soon as your child shows any signs of dehydration, consult your pediatrician. Your pediatrician will be able to determine if your child needs immediate medical attention or can be treated at home with close supervision.
Get medical attention immediately if your child:
- seems lethargic or unarousable
- has a high fever, is vomiting, and unable to keep down fluids
- has bloody or black stools
- has severe belly pain or hasn't improved significantly over 24 hours
It's possible your little one may need intravenous hydration (fluids delivered straight into the blood stream). Intravenous fluids are usually given in an emergency department that treats infants and children. But, if you think your baby is seriously dehydrated, go to the nearest emergency room or pediatric clinic.