Spending time at the pool and running through sprinklers are the highlights of summer for many children. If allowed, most kids would swim all day — but even with all that water around, you need to make sure there’s also a drop to drink nearby.
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It may seem counter-intuitive because they are playing in water, but kids who spend a lot of time outside at the pool or lake are really susceptible to dehydration.
They are still sweating and losing precious fluids they need to keep them hydrated in the heat, says Purva Grover, MD, Medical Director of Cleveland Clinic Children’s Pediatric Emergency Departments.
The good news is that it’s easy to keep children from getting dehydrated during water play. Here’s what you need to know to keep your child well hydrated while swimming.
Replenish fluids at regular intervals
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children drink water before, during and after swimming.
It’s important to focus on water because sugary drinks like soda or lemonade can actually increase a child’s chances of dehydration, Dr. Grover says. She recommends flavoring water with fresh strawberries or slices of cucumber or lemon to make it more appealing to kids.
For best results, aim for the following:
- Children ages 9-12: Drink about 5 ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes.
- Youths 13 and older: Drink at least 32 ounces every hour.
Children should only drink sports drinks after at least an hour of competitive or vigorous swimming. At that point, they begin to lose electrolytes (substances in the blood that help maintain the proper balance of body fluids). Sports drinks will optimize hydration.
Best tips to help you avoid dehydration
There are a few important steps you can take to cut down your child’s chances of becoming dehydrated during all of the fun in the sun:
- Avoid the hottest hours. Try to keep your child from too much time in direct sunlight during the hottest hours of the day — noon to 4 p.m.
- Watch for high humidity. Be especially mindful of your children’s water intake on days with very high humidity. They will sweat more on humid days and lose precious electrolytes. You might also consider keeping them indoors on especially humid days.
- Offer breaks in the shade. Encourage your children to spend some time taking a break in the shade or indoors. If you don’t want soggy kids bringing pool water into the house, create a place in the garage or basement where they can cool down. Have water bottles waiting for them there.
- Make regular water breaks a habit. If children are swimming laps, have them take sips of water after every three or four laps. During recreational water time, get them out of the water every half hour or so to get a drink. Simple habits like this tend to stick over time.
Watch for these signs of trouble
If children start to show any of these signs, it may mean they’re getting overheated and need to get into the shade and drink more water.
- Decreased urination
- Dry mouth
If your child shows signs of minor dehydration, Dr. Grover recommends a homemade “sports drink” that will replenish fluids quickly — a glass of water with a pinch of salt and sugar.
Are you worried that your child has a more severe problem? He or she may need IV fluids. “If you think something is wrong, you should call your doctor right away,” Dr. Grover says.