Drinking Fluids - Decreased  
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Does this describe your child's symptoms?

  • Child drinks less than normal amounts of fluid


  • Main cause: Sore mouth or throat.  See MOUTH ULCERS or SORE THROAT after using this topic to check for dehydration.
  • Common cause in infants: Blocked nose in bottle or breastfed infant (Reason: can't breathe while sucking). See COLDS after using this topic.
  • Common cause: Nausea from viral stomach infection, but without vomiting.
  • Difficulty breathing with bronchiolitis or croup. (Reason: not enough energy to both suck and breathe)


  • Dehydration

If not, see these topics

When to Call Your Doctor

Call 911 Now (your child may need an ambulance) If
  • Not moving or very weak
Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If
  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • Signs of dehydration, such as:
    • Has not urinated in over 8 hours
    • Crying produces no tears
    • Very dry mouth (rather than moist)
    • Sunken soft spot
    • Excessively sleepy child
  • Too weak to suck or drink
  • Refuses to drink anything for over 12 hours (8 hours if under 12 months old)
  • Refuses to drink and new onset of drooling
  • Could have swallowed a foreign body
  • Wheezing or stridor with breathing
  • Difficulty breathing not better after you clean out the nose
  • You think your child needs to be seen urgently
Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If
  • You think your child needs to be seen, but not urgently
  • Unexplained difficulty drinking and also has fever
  • Poor drinking present over 3 days
Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If
  • You have other questions or concerns
Parent Care at Home If
  • Drinking adequate amounts of fluid AND no signs of dehydration and you don't think your child needs to be seen

  1. Increase Fluid Intake: Give your child unlimited amounts of her favorite liquid (e.g., chocolate milk, fruit drinks, Kool-Aid, soft drinks, water). The type doesn't matter, since your child doesn't have diarrhea or vomiting.
  2. Solid Foods: Don't worry about solid food intake. It's normal for the appetite to fall off during illness. Preventing dehydration is the only important issue.
  3. For Sore Mouth:  
    • If the mouth is sore, give cold drinks.
    • Avoid citrus juices.
    • For infants, offer fluids in a cup, spoon or syringe rather than a bottle (Reason: The nipple may increase pain).  
    • Older child can use 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of a liquid antacid as a mouthwash 4 times per day after meals.  
    • Give acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) or ibuprofen for pain relief.
  4. Nasal Washes To Open a Blocked Nose:
    • Use saline nose drops or spray to loosen up the dried mucus. If not available, can use warm tap water.
    • STEP 1: Instill 3 drops per nostril. (Age under 1 year, use 1 drop and do one side at a time)
    • STEP 2: Blow (or suction) each nostril separately, while closing off the other nostril. Then do other side.
    • STEP 3: Repeat nose drops and blowing (or suctioning) until the discharge is clear.
    • Frequency: Do nasal washes whenever your child can't breathe through the nose.
    • Saline nasal sprays can be purchased without a prescription.
    • Saline nose drops can also be made: Add 1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) of table salt to 1 cup (8 ounces or 240 ml) of warm water.
    • Reason for nose drops: suction or nose blowing alone can't remove dried or sticky mucus.
    • Another option: use a warm shower to loosen mucus. Breathe in the moist air, then blow each nostril.
    • For young children, can also use a wet cotton swab to remove sticky mucus.
    • Importance for a young infant: can't nurse or drink from a bottle unless the nose is open.
  5. For Shortness of Breath: For mild bronchiolitis or difficult breathing, offer small frequent (every ½ hour) feedings so the infant can rest briefly between them.
  6. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Difficulty swallowing becomes worse
    • Signs of dehydration
    • Poor drinking present over 3 days
    • Your child becomes worse

And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.

Last Reviewed: 9/15/2011

Last Revised: 8/1/2011

Content Set: Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker

Copyright 1994-2012 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.