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When to Worry About Infant Dehydration


Your baby is just as susceptible to dehydration as you are. Know the signs and how to prevent the loss of more fluids.

When your baby is mildly or moderately dehydrated, they exhibit signs to show that they are not feeling their best. When your baby is very young, you can't just offer water to make them feel better. Since breast milk or formula is the only food and drink they consume for the first few months, you may feel as if your options are limited. If the weather gets hotter or your baby gets sick, you want to give them what they need to stay hydrated.

Symptoms of Infant Dehydration

Mild to Moderate Dehydration

  • Fewer than 6 wet diapers a day or no wet diaper for more than 6 hours
  • Dark, strong-smelling urine
  • No tears when crying
  • Dry mouth and lips
  • Lethargic
  • Fontanels, or soft spots on top of the head, is sunken

Severe Dehydration 

In addition to the above symptoms:

  • Wet diaper only once or twice in a day
  • Very fussy
  • Very sleepy
  • Wrinkled, dry skin
  • Hands and feet are cool to the touch and discolored

Causes of Infant Dehydration 

Your child's dehydration can be caused by a number of different issues, so it is important to know what is going on around them. Also, your baby can dehydrate faster than you can, so it is important to feed your little one on a regular basis to replenish the fluids and nutrients they need to stay hydrated.

Hot Weather 

Weather is an obvious cause of dehydration for anyone, but your baby cannot just get a drink of water whenever they are thirsty like you can.

Stay inside during the heat of the day. An average temperature 68°F is more comfortable for your little one than even 78°F. The same is also true during winter months when you are heating your home. If you must go outdoors, keep your baby in the shade such as under a tree, patio umbrella, or in a covered stroller. Proper dress can prevent overheating. While you want your little one to be covered and protected from too much sun, the right weight of clothing will keep them cool and comfortable. If you are not sure if your baby is getting overheated, check the back of the neck. If it is hot and sweaty on the skin, you need to remove a layer so they can start to cool off.


Fever causes dehydration, and it can feel more challenging when your little one is not interested in eating.

During this time, your baby still needs to eat. Even if your little one does not have as much of an appetite, you need to continue regular feedings. If your baby typically takes 4 ounces every three hours and is only eating 2 ounces at a time, then offer another two ounces about two hours later. Smaller, more frequent meals is better to keep your baby fed and hydrated than fewer bottles consumed throughout the day. This is also true if vomiting is also occurring along with the fever.


Babies lose fluids through diarrhea. Loose stools are a sign that more fluids are lost during this time. The cause of diarrhea can range from intestinal illnesses to a food allergy. Your doctor can determine the cause of the diarrhea.

It is still important to continue feeding your baby as usual. If they do not have the same appetite, consider smaller bottles as suggested for fevers. If diarrhea is caused by a reaction to a particular type of food, you may need to change your diet if you are breastfeeding or change your infant formula if bottle-feeding. Hypoallergenic organic formulas are available for your baby if that is what the doctor recommends.

Feeding Issues

If your baby is refusing the bottle or not correctly latching to your breast if you are nursing, then the risk of dehydration is high. It doesn't matter what the source of nutrition is because both are the means of hydrating your little one every few hours.

If you are nursing, speak to your doctor, nurse, or lactation consultant to help you find a solution to your baby's issue with latching. If your baby is bottle-fed, you may need to consider a different type of nipple. Perhaps you have a slow nipple and your baby needs a fast nipple. Your doctor can also give you advice if feeding is the cause of potential dehydration.

When to Seek Medical Help 

If your baby shows symptoms of mild to moderate dehydration, continue feeding so that your baby is still getting their nutrition and fluids. Do not offer water if your baby is less than four months old and do not offer juice if your baby is less than 12 months old unless your doctor says it is ok.

If your baby is sick and has mild to moderate symptoms, you can call the doctor to see if your baby needs to come in or they can recommended electrolyte liquids. Also speak with your doctor if your baby refuses to drink whether it is from pain associated from a sore throat or similar sources of discomfort.

If your baby shows signs of severe dehydration or worsening symptoms, go to the emergency room if you cannot get into your doctor's office that day.

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