Dehydration in Breastfed Babies

Dehydration in Breastfed Babies
Eva Maria Rodriguez Diego

Written and verified by the professional writer and specialist in physical education Eva Maria Rodriguez Diego.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

Dehydration can become a serious problem in babies who are breastfeeding. You should be aware of the symptoms to address it as soon as possible.

Your baby’s body is made up of around 75% water. The problem is that babies are less able to conserve fluids in their body than adults. Babies lose a lot of fluids through urine, bowel movements, sweat, crying, vomit, and even when they breathe.

Although all the liquid they lose can be replaced with regular feeding, a quick look at what’s in their diaper is enough to understand why they need to be fed so regularly. This can also help you see when they will need more fluids, because they are losing more than usual.

Signs of dehydration in breastfed babies

Loss of fluids is normal. These fluids are replaced every time your baby feeds. However, sometimes your baby does not take in enough liquid.

When bottle feeding, it is easy to see exactly how much milk a baby has had. For breast-feeding mothers, however, it can be  difficult to measure exactly how much their baby has eaten.

So, how can you tell if a baby is getting enough liquid, and what are the signs of dehydration?

These are the signs and symptoms of dehydration in babies:

  • Dry mouth and lips
  • Dry mucous membranes (nostrils, for example)
  • Fewer than 6 wet diapers over a 24-hour period
  • They lack interest in feeding
  • Their fontanelle (the soft area of their head) appears sunken
  • There are no tears when they cry
  • Irritability
  • Darker, more concentrated urine
  • Skin appears dry and loose, and does not immediately regain its shape when you press it lightly
  • Sunken eyes
  • Listlessness
detecting dehydration in breastfed babies

Causes of dehydration in breastfed babies

One of the most frequent causes of dehydration in babies is not breastfeeding between 8 and 12 times a day, and whenever the baby wants. Even if the baby doesn’t wake up to nurse, you should wake them and feed them, day or night.

Remember, your baby is constantly losing fluids that need to be replaced, even if they don’t demand it.

Another common reason for dehydration in breastfed babies is not latching on correctly to the breast. If the baby does not latch on when they feed, they will not get enough milk, however much they try. This can also give rise to many other problems in both baby and mother.

It may also be the case that the mother is not producing enough milk. Although this is not as common as you might think, some mothers really don’t produce much milk.

If you observe signs of dehydration, or your baby is not gaining weight as expected, it is important to take measures. These could include complementary feeding with a bottle, or trying to increase the mother’s milk production.

Another reason for dehydration in breastfed babies is that they may refuse feeds. There may be various reasons for this. For example, they may be having problems getting a good hold on the breast, or the mother’s milk ducts may be blocked.

They may also have stomach pain due to gas or constipation, or some other health problem (like nasal congestion).

Loss of liquids through fever or diarrhea is another common cause of dehydration, and may be paired with a lack of appetite due to sickness.

Overexposure to heat, whether through high temperatures, excess humidity or spending too much time outdoors when it is hot can cause excess sweating. This means that more moisture is evaporating through your baby’s skin.

Treatments for dehydration in babies

Treatments for infant dehydration depend on the cause and degree of the problem. In cases of light dehydration, it is normally enough to feed them more frequently while keeping an eye on the symptoms and making sure they go away.

checking for dehydration in breastfed babies

However, if the baby is sick and dehydration becomes severe, hospitalization can be necessary to allow intravenous administration of fluids. Go to your doctor, or to the ER, if your baby has any of the following symptoms:

  • No wet diapers in six or more hours
  • Your baby is very fussy and upset
  • They are unusually lethargic
  • Cold and/or blotchy hands and feet
  • Very dry mucous membranes, with a dry mouth, cracked lips and dry eyes.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.