Preventing Dehydration (Child)

Dehydration can happen when you don’t have enough fluid in your body. This happens when the amount of fluid you drink or eat is less than the amount lost.

Children lose fluids more easily than adults. Dehydration can also easily occur when a child has a fever, diarrhea, or vomiting. When a child is ill, they may refuse to drink, or drink less than needed.

Signs of dehydration can include:

  • Thirst

  • Fussiness or sleepier than normal

  • Less urine (in babies, this means fewer than 6 wet diapers a day)

  • Dark, strong-smelling urine

  • Dry, sticky mouth

  • Sunken eyes

  • Crying without tears

  • Change in behavior

  • Dizziness

When your child is sick, keep watch for signs of dehydration. If you see any of these signs, take steps to increase how much fluid your child is getting. If your child can’t keep fluids down or doesn’t get better, call your healthcare provider right away.

Home care

Your child’s healthcare provider may prescribe medicines to treat your child. Follow all instructions for giving any medicine to your child. Medicines are usually not given for diarrhea. But they may be given for vomiting. Don’t give your child aspirin unless told to do so by your provider. Don’t give your child any other medicine without first asking your healthcare provider.

For a baby or toddler who has diarrhea or vomiting:

  • Breastfeed or bottle-feed as often as your child is able.

  • Breastfed babies are less likely to develop severe diarrhea. Many breastfed babies are able to get enough fluids with breastfeeding alone. Ask your child’s healthcare provider if you need to use an oral rehydration solution (ORS). ORS is available at groceries and pharmacies without a prescription.

  • Your child can become rehydrated by drinking small amounts of fluid often over 3 to 4 hours. Talk with your child’s provider to find out the right amount and type of fluid to give. One example would be to have your child drink 5 teaspoons of fluid per pound of body weight (50 ml per kilogram). All feeding would be stopped during this period. One teaspoon can be given every 5 minutes until you reach the goal amount. If your child vomits, wait 30 minutes and then give more of the fluid. When the total amount is given, your child can go back to their regular diet.

  • Watch your child carefully for any signs of dehydration.

For an older child who has diarrhea or vomiting:

  • Give your child fluids as often as your child is able to drink them. Fluids can include water, ice chips, ginger ale, broth, or ice pops. Slowly increase the amounts as your child is able to keep them down.

  • Give your child ORS, if advised by your child’s provider. These are available from pharmacies and grocery stores without a prescription.

  • For an older child, have your child drink 1 ounce of fluid every 20 minutes to rehydrate.

  • Watch your child carefully for any signs of dehydration.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider, or as advised.

When to get medical advice

Call your child’s healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Fever (see Fever and Children below)

  • Chills

  • Can’t keep any fluids down because of continued vomiting

  • Listlessness or lack of response

  • No urine in 8 hours, or only small amounts of dark urine

  • Belly (abdominal) pain or headache that gets worse

  • Crying that can’t be soothed (babies)

  • Bloody diarrhea

  • Refuses to eat

  • New rash

  • Yellowing of the eyes (jaundice)

  • Vomiting of green or blood-colored material 

Fever and children

Use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Don’t use a mercury thermometer. There are different kinds and uses of digital thermometers. They include:

  • Rectal. For children younger than 3 years, a rectal temperature is the most accurate.

  • Forehead (temporal). This works for children age 3 months and older. If a child under 3 months old has signs of illness, this can be used for a first pass. The provider may want to confirm with a rectal temperature.

  • Ear (tympanic). Ear temperatures are accurate after 6 months of age, but not before.

  • Armpit (axillary). This is the least reliable but may be used for a first pass to check a child of any age with signs of illness. The provider may want to confirm with a rectal temperature.

  • Mouth (oral). Don’t use a thermometer in your child’s mouth until they are at least 4 years old.

Use the rectal thermometer with care. Follow the product maker’s directions for correct use. Insert it gently. Label it and make sure it’s not used in the mouth. It may pass on germs from the stool. If you don’t feel OK using a rectal thermometer, ask the healthcare provider what type to use instead. When you talk with any healthcare provider about your child’s fever, tell them which type you used.

Below are guidelines to know if your young child has a fever. Your child’s healthcare provider may give you different numbers for your child. Follow your provider’s specific instructions.

Fever readings for a baby under 3 months old:

  • First, ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead: 100.4°F (38°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 99°F (37.2°C) or higher

Fever readings for a child age 3 months to 36 months (3 years):

  • Rectal, forehead, or ear: 102°F (38.9°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 101°F (38.3°C) or higher

Call the healthcare provider in these cases:

  • Repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher in a child of any age

  • Fever of 100.4° (38°C) or higher in baby younger than 3 months

  • Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under age 2

  • Fever that lasts for 3 days in a child age 2 or older

© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
Powered by Krames Patient Education - A Product of StayWell