Dehydration occurs when a child has too little fluid in his body. Children become easily dehydrated when they diarrhea or vomiting (which can be caused by gastroenteritis or other illnesses) because they lose more fluid and salts than they are able to take in by drinking. Babies who are younger than 6 months old become dehydrated much more quickly than older children do. Babies under 1 year need approximately 1 quart of fluid per day; children over a year old need 1 to 2 quarts of fluid per day, depending on their size. The amount increases when body fluid is lost. Having a fever can also increase the loss of fluid through the skin, thus raising the risk of dehydration.
Give your child plenty to drink, but in small amounts. If your child is vomiting, wait 30 to 60 minutes after an episode of vomiting before giving him anything to drink. Give him a teaspoonful of fluid or a little sip every 2 to 3 minutes.
Children who are being breastfed can continue taking breast milk, but should be breastfed more often than normal (every 1 to 2 hours) and given smaller amounts (5 to 10 minutes at a time). You can also pump and give the child milk by spoon, cup, or bottle. Infants who are on formula can continue taking regular, full-strength formula.
In addition to breast milk and formula, you can give your infant one of several specially prepared oral rehydration solutions (Pedialyte, Ricelyte, or Kao Lectrolyte). These oral rehydration solutions (ORS) help to replace the fluids and salts lost through diarrhea and vomiting, and they're available in a variety of flavors at a local drugstore or supermarket. Be careful when giving plain water or watered-down juice, breast milk, formula, or electrolyte solution to a baby less than 1 year old because this could create dangerous imbalances. Talk to your doctor about the best treatment.
Older children can be given frozen popsicles made from the oral rehydration solutions above. If your child is older than 6 months and does not like the taste of plain (or unflavored) Pedialyte, add half a teaspoonful of apple juice to each dose. If a child has diarrhea, do not give her fruit juices or soft drinks because they have a high sugar content that can make the diarrhea worse. If the child is vomiting, but doesn't have diarrhea, she may drink small amounts of clear fluids.
Carefully monitor your child's urine output, and always contact the doctor with any concerns.
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