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How to Tell if a Child is Dehydrated

How to Tell if a Child is Dehydrated

Explore four common questions about dehydration in babies and toddlers.

Medically reviewed by a board-certified pediatrician

Maintaining normal hydration is important. Especially if your little one is sick or spends a lot of time outdoors. We’ll weigh in on how to tell if a child is dehydrated so you can keep your little one adequately hydrated.

1. How much fluid does my child need?

  • Most babies need about 11/2 to 2 fluid ounces of breast milk or formula for every pound of body weight.
  • When babies have a fever, vomit, or experience diarrhea, they may need 2 to 3 ounces of fluid for every pound of body weight. Older kids might need more.
  • On hot or active days, your older child may need to drink up to 8 ounces of water every 20 minutes to stay hydrated. Ask your doctor what’s best for your child’s particular situation.

2. How do I know if my child is dehydrated?

It’s important to know how to recognize the indications of dehydration. Untreated dehydration can progress quickly in infants and young children. Look for these indications of dehydration in babies and toddlers:

Indications of mild to moderate dehydration in babies and toddlers:

  • Dry mouth and tongue
  • Fewer tears when crying
  • Urinates less frequently
  • Lethargic or less active than usual

If you see any of these indications, contact your pediatrician and give your child small drinks of breast milk or formula over a period of time. Toddlers and older children should sip water. Too much liquid at once might make them to throw up—resulting in more fluid loss. Call your child’s doctor.

Liquids designed to quickly replace electrolytes are another good option. Your child’s doctor can also help outline at-home options.

Indications of severe dehydration in babies and toddlers

Keep in mind, dehydration can become severe quickly. Especially in babies and toddlers. Their little bodies lack the ability to store fluids like older kids. So, watch out for these indications of severe dehydration, and seek medical attention if your little one shows any of these indicators:

  • Cool, dry, and blotchy skin
  • Dry mouth and mucous membranes
  • Little or no urine;
  • Urine that’s darker than normal
  • Sunken eyes, cheeks, and/or fontanel—the soft spot on the top of your child's head
  • Wrinkled skin
  • Lethargy, disorientation, or the inability to be roused

3. What are the best sources of fluids to help with dehydration?

  • For older children, water is a great source of liquid to maintain normal hydration.
  • An oral electrolyte solution, such as Enfamil® Enfalyte®, is a good source of fluids for little ones experiencing diarrhea, vomiting, or fever.
  • Oral electrolyte solutions are easy to digest and contain water and salts in specific proportions to replenish fluids and electrolytes.
  • You can give your baby an oral electrolyte solution in a bottle, but talk to your pediatrician first.
  • Wrinkled skin 
  • If your child still breastfeeds or takes formula, be sure to continue, even while they’re sick.

4. When should I call the doctor?

Call your pediatrician immediately if you notice dehydration in your baby. Especially if you suspect it might be severe dehydration.

All this worry over dehydration can be scary. But now that you know how to tell if a child is dehydrated, it should help you understand what to look for. If you suspect your little one might not be getting the hydration they need, be sure to talk to your baby’s doctor.

All information on Enfamil, including but not limited to information about health, medical conditions, and nutrition, is intended for your general knowledge and is not a substitute for a healthcare professional's medical identification, advice, or management for specific medical conditions. You should seek medical care and consult your doctor or pediatrician for any specific health or nutrition issues. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment, care, or help because of information you have read on Enfamil.