Infant Dehydration
Know the Signs & How to Rehydrate
by Carol Bullard

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Severe infant dehydration can be life-threatening. Thus, it is important for parents to know the signs of dehydration and how to re-hydrate their baby.

Treating dehydration depends on the child's age, how serious the dehydration is, and what caused it to happen in the first place. 

The only effective treatment for dehydration, according to the Mayo Clinic, is to replenish lost fluids and electrolytes (electrically charged minerals in the body).

If a baby becomes ill with diarrhea, it is imperative that the parent gives the child plenty of water and other hydrating fluids.

Otherwise, the parent could end up having to take the child to urgent care or a hospital emergency room.

Know the Signs of Dehydration

Babies, in particular, can get dehydrated very quickly if they have a significant amount of diarrhea.

Their little bodies have relatively small fluid reserves and a high metabolic rate that makes it easy to lose the water and electrolytes the body absolutely needs.

If you don’t replace the fluids that were lost, the situation could become critical within a matter of days.

Key signs of infant dehydration

  • More than usual sleepiness
  • Noticeable thirst or dry mouth
  • A decrease or absence of tears
  • Baby is more irritable
  • Eyes or soft spot on head appear sunken
  • Fewer wet diapers

How to Re-hydrate Your Infant

If your child has been ill and you notice signs of dehydration, first call your doctor or other medical professional. 

Unless your doctor advises otherwise, you can start giving your child an Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS) such as a homemade solution (see below) or Pedialyte (or something similar) for infants and children who have diarrhea, vomiting or fever. 

Give your baby the ORS in small frequent doses. Parents are encouraged to administer the solution even when the child is vomiting. The reason for this is to prevent the loss of fluids to not exceed the intake of fluids. 

This treatment for rehydration will not stop the diarrhea, but it will help prevent severe dehydration until the illness runs its course. The amount of rehydration fluid you should give your baby depends on the size of your child and the degree of dehydration.  

Children weighing less than (22 pounds) should drink approximately 60 to 120 ml (2-4 ounces) of Oral Replacement Solution (ORS) for each episode of vomiting or diarrhea. Those children weighing more than (22 pounds) should drink 120 to 240 ml (4-8 ounces) of ORS.

If a child has acute diarrhea, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that milk products be withheld for 24 to 48 hours because they are hard to digest.

Babies that are breastfed should continue to do so. Bottle-fed children should continue to drink formula diluted with half water and half formula solution. 

Parents should not give their children soda or drinks full of sugar as they do not contain the right amount of sodium, chloride, glucose and potassium to properly balance the electrolyte levels.

In addition, the excess sugar alone will significantly weaken the child's immune system.

Normal urine output is a sign that the body is re-hydrated—at least six wet diapers a day in the case of infants and toddlers.

Oral Rehydration Solutions

A homemade oral re-hydration solution can be made by using ingredients found in most every home. A re-hydration drink should be given to an infant whenever a watery stool is found.

To keep within the re-hydration guidelines, drinks should contain starches and sugars for energy and glucose, some sodium, and preferably some potassium.

The remedies listed below are effective oral re-hydration solutions and are suitable drinks to prevent a child from losing too much liquid from diarrhea:

  • Breast milk
  • Gruels (diluted mixtures of cooked cereal and water)
  • Carrot soup
  • Rice water (Congee)

There is also a suitable and effective solution for rehydrating a child that can be made by using unrefined natural salt and sugar.

If possible, add a little bit of orange juice or some bananas mashed up to improve the taste and provide some potassium.

We recommend using honey, agave, and other forms of raw sugar instead of white sugar. These sources of sugar also contain more potassium than white sugar.

Alternative drinks that can be used as well are fresh-squeezed or organic fruit juice, weak herbal tea (such as chamomile), and green coconut water.

Homemade Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) Recipe: 


  • Six (6) level teaspoons of honey or agave (or any other form of sugar if necessary)
  • One half (1/2) level teaspoon of natural salt (such as Celtic sea salt or Himalayan crystal salt)
  • One liter (or 5 cupfuls) of clean filtered drinking water

Simply stir the mixture until the sugar and salt dissolve.  

Note: If you are using honey or agave, you will need to heat the water to dissolve the honey.  Then you can add a few ice cubes to cool it down. Or just keep it in the refrigerator.

In conclusion, if your child shows any signs of moderate to severe dehydration, you should seek medical attention immediately. 

The best way to keep your child from suffering from the effects of infant dehydration is prevention.

Always re-hydrate your child during an illness or whenever he or she is showing signs of dehydration from inadequate water intake.

References; Dehydration Treatments and Drugs; Is Your Baby Dehydrated?; Oral Rehydration Solution

Further reading . . .

Symptoms of Dehydration in Children

Electrolyte Enhanced Water (this page has a homemade electrolyte drink recipe)

Return from Infant Dehydration to Dehydration Effects of Water Loss in the Human Body

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