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Dehydration in Infants: What are the Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment?

Dehydration in Infants: What are the Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment?

Dehydration is a condition that occurs when the body has lost more water than the amount that it has taken in. A baby’s body is made up of 75 percent of water. Every day, your baby will lose some amount of water from the body due to crying, sweating, urination, bowel movements and even with breathing. But as you breastfeed your baby with milk, this lost water is replaced. However, if your baby loses more water than he or she takes in, then dehydration results. This article will explain all about dehydration in infants, its symptoms, causes, and treatment.


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What are the causes of dehydration in a breastfed infant?

Several causes can account to dehydration in a breastfed infant. Some of the common causes of dehydration include:

  • Not breastfeeding the baby adequately: A baby should be breastfed at least eight to 12 times a day. If your baby is not waking up for a feed, then you should wake the baby up at timely intervals and breastfeed the baby.
  • The baby is not attaching to the breast properly: If your baby is not latching your breast properly, then they cannot suck out the milk from the breast. Therefore they will not get an adequate amount of milk.
  • You may not be producing enough milk – A true low breast milk supply: If your baby is latching to the breast adequately and you are giving him or her feeds every two to three hours, the baby still may not get enough milk if your breast is not producing enough milk for the baby.
  • Refusal of the breast: If a baby refuses to take the breast to drink milk, then he or she is more likely of developing dehydration.
  • Illness: During an illness, your baby has a high chance of developing dehydration. A child who is sick may refuse to take the breast or may have difficulty in sucking out the milk. A stuffy nose, pain, and irritability can contribute to the interference with breast feeding.
  • Fever: If your baby has a fever, then they will lose a lot of fluid from their body and they will not drink adequate milk. Babies typically sweat when they have a fever, and when they aren't feeling will they might refuse to eat or drink. Therefore, both these causes will lead to dehydration of the infant.
  • Diarrhea: Diarrhea usually does not occur in breastfed babies because breast milk naturally prevents diarrhea. However, if your baby develops diarrhea, then dehydration can occur. Dehydration that occurs this way can be dangerous, because so much water is lost from the body. 
  • Too much exposure to heat: If your baby is overexposed to heat, very high temperatures, and extreme humidity, then it increases sweating in the baby and therefore will result in dehydration. Limit the amount of time your baby spends outside when the weather is hot. 

What are the signs and symptoms of dehydration in breastfed babies?

The signs and symptoms include:

  • Dry lips
  • Dry mouth
  • Irritability including crying more often than usual
  • No tears when crying
  • Refuses breastfeeding
  • Less than six wet diapers in a period of 24 hours
  • A sunken fontanelle, which is a soft depressed spot felt on the baby’s head.

How is dehydration in babies treated?

The treatment for dehydration will depend on the underlying cause and the severity of dehydration.

If your baby is dehydrated due to improper feeding technique or an inadequate amount of milk that the baby intakes, then your breastfeeding technique needs to be corrected and you need to feed the baby more often. In fact, you should breastfeed your baby at least every two to three hours.

If your baby is only having a mild dehydration, then just breastfeeding your baby more often can treat the dehydration. But if the dehydration is severe, then hospital admission is recommended and the baby will be given intravenous fluids.


How to prevent your baby from getting dehydrated?

The following tips will help you to prevent your baby from getting dehydrated.

  • Breastfeed your baby every two to three hours. Your baby should be breastfed at least about eight to 12 times a day. If your baby does not wake up for feeds, then you should wake the baby up and breastfeed them at timely intervals.
  • Make sure that you are breastfeeding properly. Assess how your baby latches onto your breast during feeds. This is important to make sure that your baby is getting the adequate amount of breast milk. If you are not sure if the baby is latching correctly, speak with your doctor or a local breastfeeding group for assistance.
  • Always check if your baby is getting enough milk each day. You can monitor this by counting the number of wet and dirty diapers each day, and try to monitor the amount of bowel movements and secretions. Also, check the baby’s weight to ensure a health weight which will suggest a healthy diet. 
  • Try to avoid the baby being exposed to the sunlight too much, especially when the temperature is too high. If you really have to be outside, then you need to make sure that your baby is properly covered and kept cool enough to avoid excessive sweating. Use sunscreen on your child as well. Also, breastfeed the baby regularly to replace whatever the fluid that may have been lost due to sweating.
  • If your baby is sick or is having diarrhea for more than 24 hours, then take the child to a pediatrician for treatment. It is important that you breastfeed your baby even during the times that they are undergoing treatment.


Although dehydration is not common among infants, it could happen. And if severe dehydration occurs then it could be very dangerous. Sometimes it can even be life threatening. Therefore, if your baby develops any of the signs and symptoms mentioned above or if the baby is ill or having diarrhea, take him or her to a doctor as soon as possible to avoid dehydration.

Ultimately, as a mother you must be aware and on top of your breastfeeding schedule to be sure the baby stays hydrated.