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Dehydration in infants


The human body is largely composed of water (60-70% of total body weight). Dehydration means large losses of water that are not made up for. In the newborn (from birth -2 months) and infants (2 months -2 years), whose weights are low, dehydration can have catastrophic if not life-threatening consequences.


Dehydration will occur in cases of extreme heat, fever, vomiting and severe diarrhea.
The following can be observed:
  • weight, the first sign to monitor: weigh the child, completely naked, and always with the same scale if possible;
  • dryness of mucous membranes: mouth, tongue ... ;
  • sunken and hollow eyes;
  • the general state of consciousness;
  • vital signs: with increased heart rate and breathing being major indicators of dehydration;
  • capillary refill time: the time it takes for the skin to recolor after pressing on it for a few seconds (typically less than 3 seconds);
  • skin folding: the skin wrinkles when pinched, but this sign appears at a late stage of dehydration.


The observation of the clinical signs mentioned above facilitates the diagnosis of dehydration.
The severity of dehydration is evaluated by the weight lost by the child (water loss causes an overall loss of weight):
  • weight loss <5%, minimal dehydration;
  • Weight loss between 5 and 10%, average dehydration, but requires a close monitoring and sometimes hospitalization;
  • Weight loss> 10%, severe dehydration. Life-saving measures must be taken.

Most of the time, no further investigation is necessary. A blood test, however, is sometimes performed.


The treatment will be to rehydrate the child. For weight loss <5%, rehydrating the child using bottles is usually sufficient. Rehydration solutions are available in pharmacies and must be given to the child at will. Beyond 5% weight loss, it is best to quickly hospitalize the baby, and the latter is often rehydrated intravenously (by infusion). Do not wait; infant death can occur within hours.


The most effective way to prevent dehydration is to make the baby drink regularly. Frequently offer bottles, especially in cases of hot weather or fever. Think to do the same in case of heavy diarrhea. Do not hesitate to regularly weigh the child when he is suffering from severe diarrhea and vomiting.

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