Treating dehydration in children

Treating dehydration in children

We have all heard of drinking 8 cups of water each day, to not only stave off dehydration but to ensure that our bodies can function well.

Bodies lose water through our sweat, tears, urine and stool. Your digestive system needs water to work smoothly and move the food from your gut through the digestive system and absorb the nutrients before passing it as waste.

Water evaporates from the skin and leaves our bodies as vapour when we breathe. Our body fluids and salts are usually replaced by what is in our regular diet. So it is an irrefutable fact that water is vital to survival. 

Dehydration is dangerous, particularly in children. 

Water and kids

Dehydration in young children and babies is riskier than with adults. It occurs when there is not enough fluid in the body to keep it functioning properly. For kids, water maintains body temperature as they play and explore, makes bodily fluids and facilitates day-to-day operating.

Children are likely to become hydrated after a lot of physical activity or exercise. Other common causes include severe vomiting, diarrhoea, a fever, hot weather and more. Children are more susceptible to infections and colds, which can make them dehydrated pretty quickly. 

Hydrating your child is essential at all times, especially when they are sick.

A constantly thirsty child may be dehydrated.

Signs and symptoms of dehydration

Mott Children explains that dehydration occurs if your body loses too much fluid. It can happen when you stop drinking water or lose significant amounts of fluid through diarrhoea, vomiting, sweating, and even exercise. When you don’t drink enough fluids it can cause muscle cramping.  Some people may feel faint or weak. 

The body can reabsorb fluid from your blood and other body tissues. But by the time you become severely dehydrated, you no longer have enough fluid left in your body to get your blood to your organs, and you may go into shock, which is a life-threatening condition, especially for kids.

According to RCH, a mildly dehydrated child may experience:

  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Nausea or headaches
  • Dark yellow or brown urine – their urine be pale yellow
  • Fewer wet nappies for babies and older children go to the toilet less
  • Dry lips, tongue, mouth or throat

Severe hydration can show the following signs:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Lethargy or less movement
  • Pale, sunken eyes and absent tears
  • Cold hands or feet
  • Breathing faster and a fast heart rate
  • Irritability, drowsiness or confusion

Severe dehydration in children must be treated by your general practitioner or take your child to the emergency department at a hospital.

Home care for mild dehydration

Mild dehydration is reversible by simply upping your fluid intake, such as water or oral rehydration solutions (ORS). These options replace fluids and body salts. Buy these at your local pharmacy or supermarket. 

The rehydration process starts by giving your child one or two teaspoons of ORS every few minutes. Use a spoon or syringe to transfer the solution. These small amounts of ORS can add up to a cup an hour. If your child’s dehydration seems to improve, gradually give more significant doses of ORS but less often.

If your child refuses water or oral rehydration options, try diluted apple juice or their usual milk. Avoid sugary drinks, as they worsen dehydration.


A dehydrated baby under six months old should be taken to a doctor. Dehydrated babies over six months should be breastfed more often and given oral rehydration solution or water for the first 12 hours. Oral rehydration replaces salt, sugar, potassium and other vital nutrients.

A bottle-fed baby needs alternate formula feeds with oral rehydration solution or water in the first 12 hours. After that, the regular formula can be provided in small and frequent amounts.

If your baby eats solid food, you can feed them cereal, strained bananas and mashed potatoes. They provide fluids. 

Older children

Dehydrated children over 10kg need a cup of water or oral rehydration solution every hour to four hours. These selections can be given to a child that is vomiting or has diarrhoea. It can be drunk all at once or as small sips. 

Clear soup, clear soda, popsicles, ice chips and cereal mixed with milk can add water or fluid. Do not give your dehydrated child ginger ale, tea, fruit juice, gelatine desserts, or chicken broth. They do not have the right amount of sugar and salts to hydrate your children. 

Follow up

A child with mild dehydration should rest for 24 hours and keep drinking fluids even if their symptoms improve. Fluid replacements may take up to a day and a half. Your child’s regular diet can continue.

If your child has severe dehydration after 24 hours, they may need IV fluids in the hospital. 

Taking action with dehydration

Make sure that your child drinks enough water every day. This action can prevent dehydration, especially in hot weather, during and after exercising, as well as through an illness. 

Dehydration does affect young children and babies more. Do not hesitate to book an appointment with your healthcare practitioner or go straight to the hospital if you are very concerned. 

In the event of an emergency, iER will notify your family and emergency contacts.

iER offers members three different plan options.

It is Standard that everyone gets full and free access to the service providers on the network, as the iER App is free on all devices and on all networks. 

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