Most babies are dehydrated when you find them and must be rehydrated before feeding them.
How to Check for Dehydration: Pinch the skin on the back of his neck. If it doesn't spring back immediately, the baby is dehydrated. If the pinched skin stays up like a tent for more than a second, the baby is badly dehydrated. Other signs of dehydration: lack of appetite, lethargy, pale gums, spiky fur, dry skin, looks thin and wrinkly. NOTE: These tests are not reliable in very young babies; assume every baby is dehydrated when you first find them.
Homemade Rehydration Fluid
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar or apple juice
- 2 cups warm water
- Store in refrigerator. Discard after 24 hours.
Note: If the baby refuses fluids, try leaving out the salt.
Syringes: Use a plastic 1 cc (1 ml) syringe, with or without a nipple. An eyedropper works in a pinch. Never use pet nursers, doll bottles, cheap disposable syringes, or syringes larger than 3 cc. Quality syringes cost less than 40 cents each and will save the baby's life.
How to Heat the Fluid: Fill a coffee mug with hot water. Fill the syringe with the fluid and place it in the mug for a couple of minutes. Squirt a drop on the inside of your wrist. It should feel very warm but not hot on your skin. You can also mix formula in a small glass container and place it inside a bowl of hot water.
Proper Position: Hold the baby upright in your hand. A baby that can walk can also drink sitting up or lying on his stomach. Don't let the baby get cold. Keep him wrapped up while he eats.
Feeding Technique: Place the syringe tip on the baby's lips (from the side) and squeeze out one drop for him to taste. Don't squirt a steady stream. Let him swallow one drop before squeezing more. GO SLOW! It sometimes takes a feeding or two for them to catch on. Newborn babies are fed drop by drop. With older babies (once they catch on) you can squeeze slowly for one second, wait for him to swallow, then squeeze again.
If fluids dribble out his mouth or nose, you're going too fast. Stop and tilt the baby's head down so the fluid drains out (support his head and neck). Then wipe his nose and mouth with a tissue. Start over, slower. The baby is now at risk for aspiration pneumonia, which is fatal. Contact a rehabber, vet, or The Squirrel Board for assistance.
If the baby isn't badly dehydrated, you can begin formula feeding within a few hours. Even if the baby is badly dehydrated, you will need to begin formula feeding within 6 hours. See the next section for more details.
Note: If the baby is firmly latched on to the nipple, never pull the nipple out of the baby's mouth. This can cause suction and force fluid into the inner ears, causing infection. Let the baby let go.
- Never feed formula or food to a dehydrated baby
- Never mix rehydration fluids with formula. Give fluids separately, in between formula feedings.
- Don't give Pedialyte for more than 24 hours (too much sodium). Use homemade rehydration fluid instead.