Our bodies are more than half water. For babies, the proportion is even higher - more than 75 percent of their body weight is made up of water. And, if we don’t have enough of this vital fluid, we become dehydrated which can lead to biological systems malfunctioning and even shutting down
Babies and young children are especially susceptible to dehydration for many reasons:
  • Their bodies are less efficient at conserving and storing water.
  • Their small body size means that it takes less fluid loss to lead to dehydration.
  • They’re more likely to experience diarrhea, which is a common cause of dehydration – especially in young children
  • Toddlers are often unable to identify and express when they’re thirsty.
  • Their bodies don’t adjust to hot temperatures as well as adults.
All of these unique vulnerabilities mean parents need to be especially attentive to preventing dehydration in babies and young children. To protect your child’s health, here’s what you need to know about dehydration.
How much water should children be drinking?
It varies from child to child, but here’s a breakdown of how much fluid a healthy child might lose every 24 hours. This is the minimum amount that should be replaced from all sources on an average day.
healthy child who weighs:
  • 13 pounds might lose about 20 ounces of fluid
  • 16 pounds might lose about 24 ounces of fluid
  • 20 pounds might lose about 30 ounces of fluid
  • 24 pounds might lose about 35 ounces of fluid
  • 32 pounds might lose about 40 ounces of fluid
  • 40 pounds might lose about 47 ounces of fluid
  • 60 pounds might lose about 55 ounces of fluid
  • 80 pounds might lose about 60 ounces of fluid
Bump up consumption by as much as 50 percent if your child is losing lots of fluid from being sick or playing in hot weather.
Remember that kids can get needed fluids from a variety of different sources, including water, milk, and other healthy beverages, but kids also get significant fluid from what they eat.
Typically about 20% of their fluids come from the real food they eat. This doesn’t have to be soup or watermelon!  According to the American Dietetic Association, lettuce is 95% water, broccoli and grapefruit are each about 91% water, yogurt is 85% water, and even apples are 84% water. A raw carrot contains as much water as the same weight of orange juice!
Baked potatoes, brown rice, roasted chicken, baked beans, and cooked spaghetti are all more than half water by weight.
Symptoms and treatment of dehydration in children
Children with mild to moderate dehydration may exhibit the following symptoms:
  • Dry mouths
  • Fewer tears when they cry
  • Fewer wet diapers (more than 6-8 hours between changings)
  • Darker urine (it may smell stronger than usual, too)
  • A sunken soft spot
  • Less active than usual
If your child is moderately dehydrated, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following:
“Offer frequent sips of water or, if your child doesn’t feel like drinking, ice chips to suck on. Build up to 1 oz an hour, then 2 oz an hour until the child is able to drink normally.Your pediatrician may recommend a commercial rehydration solution to help replace lost sodium and potassium in a young child. These come in liquid and Popsicle-like forms to make them more appealing to children. It also makes certain that the liquid is taken slowly. Older children may ask for commercial sports drinks, but these should be used with care. They replace salts, but they also contain large amounts of sugar, which can make diarrhea worse. A child who wants a change from plain water may enjoy sips of fruit juice diluted half-and-half with water…”
As dehydration worsens, children may exhibit the following symptoms:
  • Increased irritability
  • Lethargy
  • Fast and weak pulse
  • Sunken eyes
  • Dry lips and mucus membranes
  • The skin may wrinkle
  • Further decrease in urine
  • The hands and feet may become cold or blue
  • Muscle cramps are common
If you witness any of these symptoms, call a doctor immediately. Severe dehydration is a medical emergency.
How to prevent dehydration in children
Dehydration is best prevented by minimizing the illnesses that lead to it. Once the illnesses are present, as they will be at some time in all children, keeping fluid intake above fluid losses prevents dehydration. In a vomiting child, this can be quite difficult unless the fluids are given frequently in very small amounts. Controlling fevers also helps to decrease fluid losses. A baseline of good nutrition is also important for preventing dehydration.
During hot weather, make sure children drink often -- even if they aren't thirsty -- about every 20 minutes. And, take regular breaks from the sun and outdoor play.
Note: Babies exclusively on breast milk or formula usually don’t need to drink water. Before a baby starts solid food, he receives plenty of water from mother’s milk or formula. These rich liquids more than suffice to replace the water babies will lose with their normal bodily functions. If the weather is hot, usually a little extra milk will make up for the extra loss of fluids, but you can also supplement with a small bottle (2 to 4 ounces) of water between feedings.
Dehydration can be very serious, but it’s also easily avoidable. Follow these simple tips to make sure your child is healthily, happily hydrated!