During the summer, we’re pretty good about following our young children around with water bottles, urging them to stay hydrated. But as the weather cools, keeping thirst at bay is no less important.
Water helps regulate our body temperature, transport nutrients and oxygen to our cells and carry away waste products. We know we couldn’t live without it. What’s less clear is how much of it we need to live.
When parents ask me, I explain that the amount of water a child needs varies. A child’s age, gender, activity level and overall health will determine just how much water he or she needs to drink. And the range is wide: Around 5 cups a day for 4- to 8-year-old boys and girls, and as much as 11 cups a day for teenage boys.
That’s why if parents are looking for a general rule of thumb, I advise them not to think too much about input. Instead, focus on output.
A moderate to decent amount of clear to light-yellow urine is a good sign that your children are hydrated (provided they are not taking medication or vitamins that could change the color of their urine).
For babies, we’d like to see at least four to six wet diapers a day, a nice wet mouth and tears when the baby is crying. For older kids, a decrease in urination frequency and a parched, tacky-feeling mouth is a sign that your child is dehydrated.
Dehydration can be caused by a number of things – vomiting, diarrhea, sore throat or ulcers in the mouth that make it painful for a young child to swallow. Fevers or even just sitting around the sun can also dehydrate the body, as moisture is lost through the skin.
Typical signs of dehydration include:
- Sunken eyes
- Decreased frequency of urination or dry diapers
- Sunken soft spot on the front of the head in babies (called the fontanel)
- No tears when the child cries
- Dry or sticky mouth and tongue
- Lethargy and fatigue
Young children especially are in grave danger if they become seriously dehydrated. So if your young child is experiencing any of these, take them to the emergency room.
In mild cases, slowly rehydrating with water should be enough. But if your child is not improving, consider pedialyte, pedialyte popsicles or ½ water and ½ Gatorade. Try to avoid juice, as the simple sugars in juice do little to help your child recover.
As you fill up your kids’ water bottles, don’t forget to fill your own. Nursing mothers especially need to stay hydrated, as women lose fluid when they nurse. Keep a bottle of water next to you as you breastfeed, and limit your intake of diuretics, such as caffeine.
For both you and your child, the feeling of thirst is a sign that you might already be behind the 8 ball as far as hydration. So, don’t be fooled by cooler weather, drink up!
Teresa Lee, M.D., F.A.A.P., is a pediatrician with Hoag Medical Group in Irvine.