Sleep and settling development in infants and fluid intake in infants and young children

Child development Infants Child health Australia
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It is widely known that an unsettled infant can be a major cause of stress for some parents. Not surprisingly infant sleep and settling is a major component for health professionals working with families. Of interest is the debate about what techniques are appropriate for parents and children. Some organisations have questioned some settling techniques that could be detrimental to an infant’s mental health and/or parent-infant attachment.

When considering sleep and settling development, it is important to understand the parameters of sleep to be able to support the family and plan an appropriate course of action, if any, for the parent to follow. The majority of parents already have an idea about the importance of sleep; however it is the understanding of the child’s ability to self regulate that makes the process more difficult for some parents. It is important to keep in mind that a parent’s expectations of sleep patterns may not reflect the developmental ability of the infant to regulate themselves. To 'sleep through the night from the day they are born' is an unrealistic expectation in most cases.


Water has many important roles in the body. It helps transport nutrients, maintains blood volume, regulates body temperature and removes waste products.

Infants and young children:

  • Have a higher metabolic rate which increases heat production, waste products and fluid requirements.
  • Have immature kidneys and do not concentrate urine as well as adults.
  • May not be able to verbalise that they are thirsty and unlikely to have independent access to beverages.

All these factors contribute to an increased risk of dehydration in infants and young children. Dehydration can be life threatening. Symptoms to be aware of include sunken eyes, decreased urine output, irritability and dry skin, mouth and eyes. Dehydration can also contribute to constipation as the colonic contents become dry and hard, making stools more difficult to pass. 

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