You’ve probably heard that drinking enough water every day is important for health. But how much water do you and your kids really need? Here’s what you need to know about how to stay healthy and hydrated this summer.

First and foremost, your body needs water for a wide range of functions. It helps stabilize temperature and blood pressure, maintain a steady heartbeat, carry nutrients to your cells, eliminate waste, and protect delicate organs and tissues. Dehydration can lead to serious health complications, from heatstroke to kidney problems. In severe cases, it can lower your blood pressure and cause shock, a potentially life-threatening situation.

The old advice that you should drink four to six cups of water each day doesn’t apply to everyone. Different people need more or less water depending on their size, age, and health. And both adults and keiki need to drink more water when they’re spending time outside in the sun or being physically active. At around 6 months, babies can be introduced to water. They only need about 4-8 ounces per day until they are a year old because the rest of their liquids are coming from breastmilk or formula.

A good way to make sure you’re hydrated is to drink fluids throughout the day. For keiki, offer water at every meal, at snack and break time, and more often during sports and physical activity. Don’t forget to provide water at the beach or the pool; it’s actually easy to get dehydrated while swimming because you may not feel hot or be aware you’re sweating away fluids.

Watch for signs of dehydration, including extreme thirst, fatigue, dizziness, less-frequent urination, and dark urine. In babies and young children, symptoms of dehydration include a dry mouth, crying without tears, sunken eyes, sunken fontanelle (soft spot on the head), listlessness or irritability, and not having a wet diaper for more than three hours.

Finally, we do not recommend sugary drinks, juices, tea, or soda; as you’re trying to keep your family hydrated. Even 100% juice should be strictly limited.  Sweetened drinks like juice and soda can cause weight gain, diabetes, and inflammation and can also lead to tooth decay. Instead, stick to plain or lightly flavored water.

The bottom line is that drinking enough water is essential to keep your body healthy this summer. By sipping throughout the day and making water tasty while avoiding added sugar, you and your family can stay active while enjoying your fun in the sun.

If you have any concerns about dehydration or a heat-related illness, don’t hesitate to call your pediatrician. If your child becomes extremely lethargic or unresponsive, vomits, stops sweating, or complains of severe abdominal pain, head to your local emergency room or call 911.

—Dr. Irene Papaconstadopoulos, Pediatrician, Child and Adolescent Maui Physicians/CH.A.M.PS Pediatrics