How Do You Get A Sick Toddler To Drink Fluids?

How do you get a sick toddler to drink fluids? What if they just aren’t interested and you are out of ideas?  We spent the week between Christmas and New Years sick this year with a stomach bug. It was one of those nasty ones that hit in the middle of the night leaving you dizzy with the sheer amount of puke everywhere! It’s time like these that you pull out your bag of Mom vs Puke tricks! We were dealing with vomit on clothes, on sheets, on the floor, and let’s just not even discuss the diarrhea end of the equation. By three days in my two-year-old son simply refused to eat or drink anything at all – didn’t matter what it was.  If you ever find yourself in the same boat, no fear…I have some tricks up my sleeve for you!

The Dehydration Cycle
One of the tricky things about dehydration is it often makes you feel nauseated. This can start a spiral where you stop drinking because you are nauseated from the stomach bug. Once the throwing up and diarrhea begin to cause dehydration, left unchecked, the dehydration adds to the nausea and increases fluid loss through even more vomiting. The only way to get out of the spiral is to start replacing lost fluids. Unfortunately, you can’t explain these facts of biology to a toddler. It’s hard enough for an adult to force herself to drink when really nauseated, so how do you get a sick toddler to drink fluids?

Little Sips All Day Long
The trick to beating dehydration is to get your toddler to drink little sips at least consistently until the vomiting and diarrhea calm down and the fluids are replaced. Yes, sometimes the fluids are thrown back up, but it’s important to keep pushing fluids anyway. Practically this looks like a few ounces every half-hour to an hour depending on the severity of the fluid loss going on. I wait to start pushing fluids till the first hour or two are over mostly because I hate drinking myself those first two hours of a stomach bug. As long as we’re working on fluids by a couple of hours in, I’m not usually worried. Here are some fun ideas to try if you need to perk your toddler’s interest in fluids while sick:

  • Pedialyte – The flavors are interesting to sick ones.
  • Water – Usually not the most interesting when you are sick but obviously important!
  • Popsicles – Don’t get something with heavy dyes that will stain if thrown back up! You can also freeze Pedialyte or Gatorade yourself in molds.  
  • Jello – Yes, it counts as a liquid. Again, watch which colors you choose!
  • Soda – I never buy soda except during a stomach bug. Yes, it’s lots of sugar, but sometimes I just need to get fluids jumpstarted, and then we alternate with something less sweet.
  • Cereal and Milk – Milk is not always the best for sick tummies in the beginning, but as recovery begins I have found that it increases fluid intake without a struggle.
  • Straws – Not a beverage I  know, but sometimes just getting to drink from a straw, makes the whole process easier!
  • Ice – The novelty of having ice can sometimes increase interest in fluids as well.

If They Refuse
This past go-around my son simply refused to drink at all – for hours. Eventually, I got out the syringe you use for giving infant Tylenol and just gave him a few syringes of Pedialyte like it was medicine. After a few swallows he realized how thirsty he was and took a couple of ounces voluntarily. This same pattern repeated itself for most of the day, and then like a switch his thirst kicked back on. To keep his interest we also used variety of fluid options, so for a while every time we took a drink, he had a few swallows of Pedialyte a couple of Sprite and a couple of water or milk.

If dehydration has begun to set in you need to be more aggressive using an oral rehydration solution available at drugstores. At this point most other fluids are no longer very helpful. If you suspect dehydration has begun also keep an eye out for the danger signs that indict an ER visit is necessary.

Know the Signs of Dangerous Dehydration
There is a point where it’s time to head for the Emergency Room. Emergency Rooms are there for a reason, and a simple bag of IV fluids works wonders and in worst case scenarios can be lifesaving. Having been given IV fluids during a bout of dehydration during pregnancy, I know the wonderful almost instantaneous relief they provide. If you get to the point where it’s time for medical intervention, go in right away. Here are some of the red-flag signs to watch out for:
(List borrowed from www.aboutkidshealth)

  • Dry, cracked lips and a dry mouth
  • Decrease in urine output, no urine for eight to 12 hours, or dark-coloured urine
  • Drowsiness or irritability
  • Cold or dry skin
  • Low energy levels, seeming very weak or limp
  • No tears when crying
  • Sunken eyes or sunken soft spot (fontanelle) on baby’s head.

Getting fluids down your little one and keeping him from an Urgent Care visit is essential during any sickness. Next time you need some tips and tricks on keeping your toddler hydrated, I hope this list of tips comes in handy!

Mommy Medicine is a group of moms that love sharing tricks, tips and strategies with our fellow moms. So send us your mommy questions you would like to see as the subject of a blog. We would love to hear from you!  Subscribe here to receive posts straight to your inbox!

Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (1/28/2019) 
Jill Watson (Flickr)

Jessica Hines

Jessica Hines

Jessica lives in Mesa, AZ with her husband Daniel and their three-year-old son, two-year-old daughter, and five-month-old son.  She is primarily a stay at home mom who works part time from home as a tutor and an administrative assistant for her church.  As a tutor Jessica has ten years of experience working with students in Math, Science, and English and is passionate about helping students regain their confidence and discover keys to understanding the concepts they are studying.  Prior to having kids, Jessica graduated with a degree in Dietetics from Arizona State University and spent several years working in the nutrition field doing menu planning and analysis for schools and long-term care communities.   
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