Family Health Guide

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First Aid: Dehydration

When your baby's in the throes of a stomach bug, one serious consequence is the risk of dehydration, which can happen quickly in kids (and even faster in infants) and cause dangerous complications -- even death (though it’s rare). The good news: Most babies can avoid dehydration just by eating. If you breastfeed, continue to nurse, giving your baby short, frequent feeds. Formula-fed babies should pass on their usual bottles and drink an OTC electrolyte solution instead, until the vomiting subsides. Common brands of this include Pedialyte and Rehydralyte. Older children can also sip an electrolyte solution, flat soda, Gatorade or water-based soups.

If your baby refuses to eat, get out a medicine dropper and give her two or three teaspoons of the electrolyte solution every 15 minutes, and watch for these signs of dehydration:

Dry diapers Your baby should be wetting six to eight diapers a day. If you find one is still dry a few hours after a change, check in with your doctor.

A dry, parched-looking mouth Or sunken eyes, a sunken fontanel (the soft spot on the top of your baby's head), or a lack of tears when your baby cries (once he's crying tears, usually after two months of age). Get your baby to the doctor if he shows even one of these symptoms.

Continued vomiting. If your baby has been throwing up consistently for 6 hours or sporadically for 24 hours, talk to your pediatrician.

Playing outside in hot weather can lead to dehydration more quickly in little kids because their bodies heat up faster and they sweat less than older children. If you think your kid needs a break from the heat, get him out of the sun and have him take it easy. Give him plenty to drink; take him to the doctor if he can't seem to drink, or becomes lethargic -- he may need fluids via an IV.