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Dehydration in children

Here we look at dehydration in babies and what you can do if you think your baby is dehydrated. There are signs and symptoms to look out for and ways to treat and prevent it.

Babies naturally have a low body weight and as a result are more sensitive to even small amounts of fluid loss; this may lead you to ask yourself 'is my baby dehydrated?'. Like adults, babies and young children need to drink plenty of fluids to avoid becoming dehydrated.

Symptoms and signs of dehydration in babies

Some of the symptoms of dehydration in children can be:

  • Producing far fewer wet nappies than they normally do, with darker urine.
  • Being more floppy or irritable than usual.
  • Looking unwell.
  • Having dry skin.

They may also have a sunken fontanelle - the soft spot on top of their head is lower than usual.

How to treat dehydration in children

Breastfed babies don’t need extra water as long as they can breastfeed as often as they need to. Even in much hotter countries, studies have shown that babies help themselves to more frequent, shorter feeds so that they get more thirst-quenching milk. They may often have a short feed from each breast if they are thirsty or wake up more often during the night.

If you get hot and sweaty holding your baby to feed, place a muslin between your body and your baby’s body to help you both feel more comfortable.

Formula-fed babies can have plain cooled, boiled water in a small cup or bottle in addition to their usual formula. Formula-fed babies may behave as though they are hungry but if they then reject the feed it may be that they are actually thirsty. Offer water little and often but continue to offer formula as normal.

Babies and toddlers having foods other than milk will need more water. Homemade ice lollies are a great way to stay cool - if you want to flavour them, use very diluted fruit juice. 

See your GP if your baby continues to show the symptoms described above, despite drinking plenty of fluids, or if you suspect that your baby or toddler is dehydrated.

Further information

NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.

You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and allow you to meet other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

Read more about dehydration from NHS Choices.