Hydration in Early Years

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Good hydration is one of the most important things to keep our mind and body healthy. Water is essential for all the cells in our body and has important functions including transporting nutrients around the body, removing waste from the body, cushioning, lubricating joints and eyes, preventing constipation and regulating body temperature.

How much water do children need?

Children’s bodies are made up of  a higher proportion of water than adults meaning they are sensitive to even small amounts of water loss. Babies and young children are also more susceptible to dehydration because their bodies are less able to regulate fluid in the body than adults and because they don’t always recognise when they are thirsty. It is important that babies and children are offered fluids regularly.

According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), children aged 2-3yrs should have an intake of 1.3 litres a day, and those aged 4-8yrs should consume 1.6 litres a day.

Water doesn’t just have to come from fluids, it can come from food too! Lots of fruits and vegetables have a high percentage of water including cucumber and watermelon which contain over 90% water!

What are the signs of dehydration in children?

When it is hot weather or when children are active their fluid losses are much higher, therefore it is essential that they are reminded to drink fluids regularly as young children don’t recognise when they’re thirsty due to immature thirst mechanisms – meaning there is a risk of dehydration.

Signs of dehydration in children might include:

  • feeling tired
  • poor concentration
  • dizziness
  • a dry mouth, lips and tongue
  • sunken eyes
  • dark yellow, strong-smelling urine
  • passing small amounts of urine less frequently
  • sunken eyes
  • feeling thirsty

Signs of dehydration in babies might include:

  • few or no tears when they cry
  • having more dry nappies than usual
  • being drowsy or irritable
  • sunken eyes
  • a sunken soft spot on top of their head

What are the best drinks for children?

Freshly drawn tap water is the best option for children. It’s safe for teeth and perfect for hydration. Milk is another tooth-friendly drink option for children but remember that milk can be filling and can spoil a child’s appetite for food if they drink too much. For children over 12 months, it’s best to limit milk intake to around 300-400ml milk daily.

If your child doesn’t enjoy drinking water, why not try using a colourful cup or a fancy straw to make it more appealing? You could even add sliced cucumber, mint, or other garnishes to the water to make it more appealing.

Squashes, fruit-flavoured drinks and fizzy drinks should be avoided for young children, even if they’re sugar-free. This is due to the acid included in these drinks which can damage tooth enamel and lead to dental decay.

How to encourage children to drink more often

It’s a good idea for parents to be role models for their children to look up to, showing that they drink water throughout the entire day. Here are a few tips you can follow to encourage your child to drink more:

  • always have water available throughout the day
  • offer drinks regularly, even more so during warm, sunny days
  • let your child pick out their own cup or water bottle and let them fill it up themselves (of course with adult supervision)
  • add ice or fruit to water to give it a bit more taste
  • remember that fruit, vegetables, and yoghurt contain high water content that can contribute to fluid intake

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