Recognize Dehydration in Infant or Toddler

Dehydration in infant or toddler occurs when there is not enough fluid in the body. This can occur because your child is not drinking enough or because the body is losing too much fluid, usually by vomiting, diarrhea or both.

It is important to recognize dehydration and take appropriate steps. Severe dehydration can lead to shock.

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What are the symptoms of dehydration in infants and toddlers?

Your child will be thirsty. If she is able to, she may be asking for drinks.

She may also complain of a dry mouth.

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What are the signs of dehydration?

The following are all signs of dehydration in an infant or child. The symptoms at the top are the first to appear:

  • dry mouth and lips
  • skin that seems less elastic - it doesn't spring back into place when pinched
  • sunken eyes
  • no tears when she cries (and she really means it!)
  • no urine for over 6 hours
  • listless and lethargic

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What should I do if my child is dehydrated?

Make sure she has enough fluids and if necessary give extra fluids. If giving extra fluids, it is best to give a oral rehydration solution.

Oral rehydration solution is a special mix of water, glucose (sugar) and electrolytes like salt.It is specially formulated to help dehydration in infant and toddlers. It helps keep the blood chemistry stable.

You can buy oral rehydration solution (or ORS) at your local pharmacy - look out for Gastrolyte, Dioralyte, Pedialyte, Rehydralyte.

You should not use normal drinking fluids (like Lemonade or Cola) to rehydrate your child for any length of time.

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How much oral rehydration fluid should I give my child?

As a guide, give 1ml of oral rehydration fluid per kilogram weight every 5 minutes over the first few hours (4 or 5 hours) will ensure your child keep hydrated. 30 ml is equivalent to 1 ounce (oz).

  • 1 year old will be about 10 kg - give 10ml of oral rehydration fluid every 5 minutes, so 120ml per hour (about 4 oz per hour) .
  • 2 year old will be about 12 kg - give 12ml of oral rehydration fluid every 5 minutes, so 144 ml per hour (about 5 oz per hour).
  • 3 year old will be about 14 kg - give 14ml of oral rehydration fluid every 5 minutes, so about 170ml per hour (about 6 oz per hour)v.
  • 4 year old will be about 16 kg - give 16 ml of oral rehydration fluid every 5 minutes so about 200 ml per hour (about 7 oz per hour).

Lemonade ice blocks (ice lollies) are a good way to get fluid into a toddler - each one has about 60 ml (2 oz) of fluid.

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What should I do if my child is vomiting the oral rehydration fluid?

Give small amounts frequently. This may mean a spoonful every few minutes (as above). A small amount of fluid is more likely to be absorbed. If the vomiting continues, you will need to seek medical attention.

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Can I make my own Oral Rehydration Solution?

Yes you can make your own ORS for dehydration in infant and toddlers. Mix the following together until the salt and sugar are dissolved and then keep in the fridge:

  • 1 liter (33 fluid oz) of water (boiled and cooled)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 6 teaspoons of sugar

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When should I seek medical attention?

See you doctor if your child:

  • is lethargic or listless
  • has not passed urine for 6 hours
  • feels cold to touch - press your thumb over her breast-bone for 5 seconds until the skin goes white. Take your thumb off and count in seconds until the color returns to the skin. (1000-1, 1000-2, 1000-3 etc is equivalent to 1 second, 2 seconds, 3 seconds etc). If the color has not returned within 3 seconds (1000-1, 1000-2, 1000-3), she needs urgent medical attention
  • seems very unwell to you

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To read about Gastroenteritis as a cause of dehydration in an infant or toddler, click here

To return to the Home page, click here


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Last reviewed 25 May 2011.

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Dr Maud MD

Dr Maud MD (MBChB, FRACP, FRCPCH), a specialist pediatrician, provides health information and medical advice for parents of babies and toddlers. Read more about Dr Maud.



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