Keeping a Baby Hydrated While Sick

Lynsey Keep, RN
ice cubes

One of our biggest fears as parents is how we will cope with a sick baby and the avoidance of high temperatures and keeping a baby hydrated while sick are just some of the problems new parents face. As babies are small and have weaker immune systems particularly in newborns, it doesn't take long before a simple illness can lead to more complex problems.

Common Childhood Ailments

Babies are susceptible to getting sick simply because they are smaller than adults and their bodies have not grown used to fighting illness. As babies grow into young kids, they are affected less by common ailments. Some of the most common problems are:

  • Earache - This can be one of the most painful problems children of all ages may face. Particularly when caused by infection, earache requires prompt medical treatment and regular pain relief.
  • Coughs and colds - With so many bugs around throughout the year, just when we think our child has gotton over one illness, they then get another. Coughs and cold can first present with elevated temperature and fever and along with the general symptoms needs to be treated until the child is fully recovered.
  • Teething - Although not strictly an illness, the pain caused by teething can make a baby feel distinctly unwell. Not only do the teeth and gums hurt, but many babies experience upset tummies too causing profound diarrhea in some.
  • Gastro-intestinal bugs - Babies can be susceptible to these types of problems, particularly if other family members in the household have the bug, too.

Keeping a Baby Hydrated While Sick: Stay Alert and Act Quickly

Babies and young children get sick a lot particularly in the first year of life. Immune systems are still developing, and parents often feel that their baby catches every bug going round.

When a baby is struck down by earache, a cough or cold, or suffers from teething discomfort, it can cause him to go off his usual diet. Some children become so unwell that they even refuse milk and other liquids such as juice. It is additional problems of an illness such as this that can lead to dehydration, and babies are at significant risk of this.

Fortunately dehydration in babies becomes evident quickly, and it does not take a great reduction in fluid intake, or significant amount of fluid loss such as vomiting or diarrhea, to make a baby visibly unwell. The common signs of dehydration in babies are:

  • Drier than normal diapers - Watch for diapers that do not appear wet at all as well.
  • Dark urine - When a baby is not taking sufficient fluids, the urine may become concentrated and appear darker than usual.
  • Reduced alertness - The baby may be quieter than normal and appear lethargic.
  • Sunken fontanelle - In young babies the fontanelle on the front of the babies head may appear to dip more than usual.
  • Sunken eyes - The baby will look visibly sorry for himself, and the eyes may not appear as alert as normal.
  • Dry lips and mouth - As with adults when we are thirsty or crave fluids, our mouths are affected and become dry.
  • Poor skin elasticity - In a dehydrated baby, the skin's elasticity may be reduced due to loss of fluid. When the skin is pinched between the fingers, it does not spring back as it would in a healthy child.

Re-hydration is Crucial

In the same fashion that babies become sick quickly, they too can become well as quickly following prompt treatment from vigilant parents. Particularly in cases where a baby is vomiting or experiencing diarrhea, it sometimes feels like everything put into the child just comes out again.

The important thing when a child appears dehydrated is to introduce fluids slowly and at first in very small amounts. Giving a teaspoon of water or a small syringe full every ten minutes may not seem particularly generous, but logically speaking if the child is able to retain that small amount, then that is favorable over giving her too much for her to subsequently vomit it back up. Do not give a baby her normal milk or any juice that is highly concentrated, instead stick to sterile water which is likely to be tolerated far better. In cases of breastfed babies, it is important to continue to offer the breast. In addition, offer small amounts of water as in most cases it is impossible to measure breast milk intake.

It is important to write down how much you give, and if the baby vomits or has diarrhea make a note of this too as it is crucial to measure the correlation between what's going in and what's coming out. If the baby is on the mend and the dehydration is improving, this will become obvious as the child is likely to become brighter with other measurable signs such as wet diapers.

Don't Leave Things to Chance

If your baby does not begin to show signs of improvement within an hour or two at the most, then it is crucial to seek medical attention. In the home environment there are limits to what parents can offer in terms of re-hydration, and in cases where a baby is not able to tolerate even the smallest amount of water, it may be the case that a trip to the hospital and treatment with I.V fluids is necessary until she fully recovers.

Most importantly, never take chances. Every baby is different, and every case of dehydration is too. Do not assume one child will recover the same as another.

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Keeping a Baby Hydrated While Sick