When talking about hydration and dehydration, many might think this applies to the summer months only. But with the current season being colder, the subject remains just as important. In cooler temperatures and dry conditions, people tend to feel less thirsty, even if they should still drink plenty. Especially for toddlers and young children, who might not be as responsive to their bodies' thirst signals, it is good practice to ensure an adequate water intake.
Winter is high season for the flu, cold and stomach bugs; runny noses, fever, vomiting and diarrhea are the leading causes of dehydration in children. The cold climate, radiators, heaters, and lack of ventilation can also dehydrate us from the outside. Dry skin, chapped lips, nosebleeds and a sore throat can be the result. Besides drinking plenty of fluids, a humidifier can help here, or just a bowl of water or wet towels placed on the radiator, like my grandmother used to do.
How can I tell if my child is dehydrated?
Warning signs for dehydration in a child can include dark colored urine, fewer wet diapers, sleepiness and low energy levels, dry mouth and lips, crying without tears, drowsiness, dizziness and increased thirst. The skin will feel cold to the touch and if pinched into a fold, will stay that way for a long time instead of stretching and smoothing out again quickly.
So how much exactly should a child drink?
The exact amount depends on a number of individual factors: the age of the child, their height and weight, their diet, the weather and their activity level for example. For Infants up to 6 months, breast milk or formula will provide all the hydration they need. It is not necessary to give them additional beverages at this time, unless instructed to do so by a pediatrician.
With the introduction of "grown-up foods" at around 6 months of age, the babies’ fluid intake requirements may increase, though the need for additional beverages in babies under 1 year of age is still very small. Initially they will just take a few sips, and you will want to avoid letting them fill up on water before mealtime. Some parents will notice that their baby gets constipated after eating their first solid foods, and giving them small amounts of water (1-2 oz) with their baby meals can help keep things moving.
For toddlers and children up to 8 years, 1 glass per day for each year of age is often recommended as a rule of thumb. This means a 2 year old would be drinking the equivalent of 2 (8oz) glasses of water per day, a 3 year old 3 glasses, and so on. Again, this can vary for each child. Instead of focusing on the exact amount your child is drinking, is a good idea to keep water accessible to your child and offer it throughout the day. Take a water bottle on the go, especially on hot summer days. If you are at all concerned that your child is not drinking enough, this would be a good topic to bring up at your next appointment with the pediatrician.
What should my child be drinking?
Water should be the go-to beverage on a daily basis. Getting children used to drinking plain water from a young age will help to establish healthy habits for the future, providing hydration without extra calories, flavors or sweeteners. Artificially or naturally sweetened sodas and “fruit beverages” are not a healthy choice, because they add calories without nutritional value, get the child used to overly sweet foods, and cause tooth decay.
Whole cow’s milk is also widely recommended for children aged 1 year and older. It contains Protein, Calcium, fat and Vitamin D, making it more nutritious and higher in calories than most other beverages. For older children, you can discuss with your pediatrician if a low-fat version would be a better choice.
Milk alternatives such as almond milk or oat milk can be healthy options, but it is important to remember that their composition is very different from breast milk or formula and they should not be used to replace those. Here, too, it is best to go with the un-flavored, un-sweetened varieties.
If you want to add some flavor to your child's drinks, try infusing plain water with oranges, strawberries, mint or cucumbers. Some children like a fruity tea diluted with water or sweetened with a little apple juice. Juices provide valuable vitamins, but also extra sugar and calories. A better option is to dilute the juices 1:3 with water and offer the actual fruits to eat instead. Yes, food counts towards the water intake, too! Fresh fruits and vegetables, bowls of cereal with milk, soups and smoothies can all help to stay hydrated and are an important part of a balanced diet.
Even though it is extremely unlikely to over-hydrate, remember to never force or bribe a child to drink or eat. Most children have a natural response to hunger and thirst, if they have been exposed to healthy and wholesome foods. The best thing you can do is to provide healthy options, encourage healthy choices, and be a good role model by making healthy choices yourself. Happy hydrating!
*Disclaimer: This article is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any diseases or illnesses. If you have serious health concerns regarding yourself or your child, please consult your physician or pediatrician for advice*