Causes Of Dehydration In Newborns: Symptoms And Treatment

Dehydration is a condition in which there is excess loss of body fluids. It can develop in anyone right from an infant to an elderly individual. Newborn babies are at greater risk of suffering from dehydration typically due to diarrhea and vomiting, besides fever and profuse sweating. It occurs when there is excess loss of body fluids than the intake.

Dehydration in newborns usually occurs in first time mothers who probably are not too trained for breastfeeding and child rearing. The most common cause of dehydration in infants and babies is infection of the gastrointestinal tract which leads to diarrhea, vomiting, and fever.

Dehydration can be mild, moderate or severe. In majority of cases fluid loss can be easily corrected by replenishing oral and intravenous fluids.

What Causes Dehydration In Newborns?

Dehydration in newborn can occur due to many reasons. The most common cause is infection in the gastrointestinal tract. Dehydration is not a disease in itself. It is a condition that can most often occur due to diarrhea, vomiting, fever and sweating. The child born to first time mothers may be more at risk because she may not be experienced in rearing and breastfeeding. However, it is not so in all the cases.

Infection probably occurs more commonly in bottle fed babies. It is mostly bacterial or viral intestinal infection. This may lead to diarrhea and vomiting. The baby may become severely dehydrated if there are frequent episodes of diarrhea and vomiting.

Dehydration can also occur if the mother is unable to breastfeed the baby or baby is unable to drink fluids due to oral disease such as thrush. The baby may refuse to drink milk because of soreness and pain in mouth. Intense heat can cause dehydration due to loss of fluid through sweating.

Signs And Symptoms Of Dehydration In Newborns

There are several symptoms that may indicate the baby has become dehydrated. In majority of cases there is a history of diarrhea, vomiting, excessive sweating and poor intake.

  • Reduced activity: The baby who is dehydrated will be listless and less active. He may feel sleepy all the time. The baby is not active and enthusiastic while nursing. His activity decreases over a period of time. His general response is lax.
  • Sunken fontanel: Fontanel is a gap which is covered by membrane of the incompletely formed skull bone in newborn and toddlers. It is also called as soft spot. Normally you can feel the gaping between the two bones of skull. The gap gradually fuses as the child becomes older. However, due to dehydration the fontanel gets sunken. This is one of the most important symptoms of dehydration in newborn babies.
  • Cold and clammy skin: The skin loses its elasticity and texture due to loss of fluids from the body. It becomes wrinkled. Pinch the baby’s skin between two fingers. If the baby is dehydrated his skin will not become normal as soon as you release the pinch. This means the skin has lost its elasticity which is classical sign of dehydration.
  • Lips become dry and cracked.
  • Lack of tears: Due to sufficient loss of fluid from the body, tears may be absent when the baby cries.
  • Few wet diapers: If the baby is dehydrated the diapers do not become wet as they should. This means baby passes less urine which is one of the symptoms of dehydration. A normal newborn wets the diaper very frequently, but if the baby has not soiled the diaper since last 6 to 7 hours this is an indication of dehydration.

How To Treat Dehydration In Newborns?

If the newborn is severely dehydrated it is necessary to take the child to a pediatrician. He may need hospitalization and administration of intravenous fluids. However, even if dehydration is not severe consult the doctor to assess the severity of the condition.

If the doctor feels the baby can be treated at home, he may recommend following steps to replenish the fluid that is lost.

  • Try to breast feed the child as frequently as possible. However, see that they are small feeds.
  • You can also try formula feed if in case breast milk is insufficient.
  • Give electrolyte fluids if the baby is 4 months old. Let the baby consume it in small sips. This oral re-hydration solution contains salts and sugar. Feed the baby alternately with breast milk.
  • If the outside climate is very hot, ensure that the baby sleeps in a cool place.