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Staying Hydrated

By Michael Dawson, M.D.

When the temperatures rise, getting enough to drink is important, whether you’re playing sports, traveling or just sitting in the sun.

Children need more liquids than adults during activity because they are more likely to suffer from heat exhaustion or stroke when in the heat. A good rule of thumb is 4-6 oz. of liquid for every 20 minutes of intense exercise.

Babies are particularly vulnerable to dehydration because they have smaller reserves to tap when they lose fluids than older children and adults.

Hydration is Critical for Heart Health

Appropriate fluid levels ease the heart's ability to pump blood to muscles for the removal of waste and the delivery of oxygen, enhancing their efficiency. A hydrated heart does not have to work as hard.

It Starts with Water

The foundation of staying hydrated is drinking water. It’s what your body needs most. However, in very hot weather or while playing sports and exercising, sport drinks can provide valuable electrolytes. Don’t forget that what you eat also plays a part in hydration. Fruits contain a high percentage of water, and a healthy snack of vitamin C-laden orange slices or potassium-containing bananas will help keep the body’s stocks full.

Not all drinks are equal, though. Caffeinated beverages actually cause the body to loose fluids, and high sugar drinks like soda can be hard on a dehydrated stomach. Some sport drinks contain caffeine, so check the labels.

As for infants, breast milk or formula is all that they need. They have different salt needs than older kids, and water alone can affect their natural balance. If a baby cannot take a regular diet of breast milk or formula, oral rehydration solutions are best.

Water is Not Just for Athletes or Exercise

Hydration needs to occur throughout the day, not just during activity. The environment plays a part in fluid status, too. Remember, sitting in the sun on a hot or humid day, even if you aren’t exercising, can cause your body to loose fluids. Pay special attention to staying hydrated if you’re traveling.

Signs of Dehydration

Signs of mild dehydration in an infant include:

  • sticky mouth
  • few or no tears when crying
  • crankiness or irritability
  • no wet diapers for six hours or more

Signs of serious dehydration in an infant include:

  • dry mouth and tongue
  • dry, cool, blotchy skin
  • inconsolability or unusual sleepiness
  • sunken eyes or cheeks
  • deep and rapid breathing
  • fast and weak pulse
  • muscle cramps or contractions

Medical Attention

As soon as your child shows any signs of even mild dehydration, consult your pediatrician. Your pediatrician will be able to determine if your child needs immediate medical attention or can be treated at home with close supervision.