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September 29, 2016

Gastroenteritis in infants: Give plenty of fluids!

Gastroenteritis (the stomach flu) is not generally a serious infection, but it does involve certain risks for the more vulnerable among us. Due to the dehydration it causes, gastroenteritis can have serious consequences, especially for infants. To avoid complications, it is extremely important to quickly replace fluids and mineral salts lost as a result of diarrhea, vomiting and fever. 

The common symptoms of gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis  is a highly contagious disease, most often caused by a virus. It can, however, also be due to a bacterial or parasitic infection of the digestive tract. The main symptoms are soft or watery stool, vomiting, fever, abdominal cramps, loss of appetite, headaches and general malaise.

Watching out for signs of dehydration

We tend to underestimate the impact of dehydration in people with gastroenteritis. This is a big mistake. Dehydration can be fatal! For example, an adult cannot survive more than four days without fluids. In children, especially infants, dehydration develops even faster. This is why we must pay close attention to even the slightest signs of dehydration and deterioration of their health.

Signs of dehydration

Here are the signs of dehydration to watch out for in an infant who has diarrhea and vomiting or who is not drinking: 

  • Sunken fontanel
  • Lack of tears
  • Increased thirst
  • Weight loss
  • Pale or grey complexion
  • Reduced urination
  • Dark urine
  • Dry skin and mucous membranes (e.g. mouth and tongue)
  • Rapid pulse
  • Unusual behaviour (e.g. drowsiness, irritability)
  • Weakness
  • Sunken eyes, dark circles under the eyes

If you notice any of these signs in your child, you need to see a doctor immediately. Dehydration in a baby is a medical emergency. 

Treating dehydration

If your baby has gastroenteritis, you must start rehydration right away. Visit your nearest pharmacy to purchase an oral rehydration solution, which contains the correct balance of water, electrolytes and sugar. There are many rehydration solutions available on store shelves. Ask your pharmacist for help in selecting the one that will be right for your child.

Give your child small amounts of solution several times per hour. 


Recommended amounts

of rehydration solution

Under 6 months 30 to 90 ml/h
6 to 24 months 90 t0 125 ml/h
Over 24 months 125 to 250 ml/h

If the vomiting recurs, reduce the amounts to avoid over-stimulating the stomach, but keep up the fluids. If necessary, use a spoon or dropper to administer the solution.

In addition to the oral rehydration solution, continue to breastfeed or bottle feed your baby. Gradually reintroduce other foods once the vomiting has slowed down considerably or stopped altogether.

If, despite your best efforts, your baby’s condition has not improved after 12 hours, go to the emergency room. 

What NOT to do when your child is dehydrated

  • Do not think it will go away on its own. Magical thinking will not work. Children need help to rehydrate and get back to normal. You must make sure he or she gets enough fluids until the episode has passed.
  • Do not give your child only water. Your baby needs mineral salts (electrolytes) and sugar for proper rehydration. Without the additional sodium, your baby could suffer from hyponatremia, a drop in the sodium level in the blood. This can lead to brain swelling, coma or intracranial hypertension.
  • Do not give your baby sugary drinks (soft drinks, fruit juice). They aggravate diarrhea, leading to more dehydration. Only rehydration solutions are suitable for babies.
  • Do not stop breastfeeding your baby. Breast milk contains antibodies that will help your child recover. You can give your baby a rehydration solution between feedings.
  • Do not administer medication for diarrhea or vomiting before speaking with a health professional. You should never give an infant medication for diarrhea or vomiting unless recommended by a medical professional.

Pharmacy services

Your baby is sick and you need advice? Come and speak with your family pharmacists. They’re there to help!

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