When their kids are having a fever, most parents are just thrown in at the deep end and have to figure out for themselves, how to handle this new and frightening situation. There is nothing, that prepares you for being awake all night and worrying about your little one, checking for signs of deterioration or recovery and hoping all goes well. When the patient is a baby, particular attention is needed, as there are some specifics, which have to be considered.
What Is a Fever?
A fever is actually a good thing: When viruses or bacteria force their way into the body, the body responds by raising the ‚thermostat‘. At higher temperatures, germs can‘t settle and multiply so easily. The temperature is regulated by the hypothalamus, the control center for the body temperature. Normally, it regulates the temperature to around 98.6° F, but when having an infection, it gives the command to heat up. A normal, healthy body temperature is then considered as too cold and the body produces heat.
So, a fever is not a disease but a symptom and a very clever defense reaction.
Sometimes, a fever is a side effect of a vaccination. This is a physiologically useful reaction of the body. With a vaccine, antigenes are introduced into the body. The body‘s reaction is to activate its immune system which might provoke minor disease symptoms (but there acutally is no ‚real‘ infection!).
Fever in Babies
Kids often have a fever, their bodies are still learning how to handle pathogens. A harmless disease might already cause a rise of temperature. But sometimes newborns DO NOT react with a fever, even if they are seriously ill. It can happen, that a very young baby becomes cold rather than hot, when he is sick.
As parents, it is our everyday task to read our baby‘s signs, since a baby cannot communicate verbally. We are used to that, so normaly, when something is wrong, we realize it quickly. A fevering baby might be whiny, become fatigued faster than usually or more restless. He feels hotter, with a warm and faster breath, has tired eyes and might have chills.
How to Take the Temperature?
If you think that your baby might have a fever, take his temperature to be on the safe side. Knowing the exact temperature is important for your decision, which steps to take next. There are different ways to take the temperature. For babies, you‘d better choose a method that is as less disturbing as possible. We recommend degree° in-ear measurement as it is accurate and is accepted well by infants. It makes undressing your baby unnecessary and your baby does not have to keep still. Also, degree° has a decisive advantage compared to other thermometers: it measures continuously, so you can monitor your baby‘s fever curve permanently and know exactly in which fever phase he is which allows you to act accordingly. Moreover, monitoring at night is easily possible without disturbing your baby‘s sleep.
Is it a Fever?
Babies have a slightly higher body temperature than older kids and adults. It lies between 97.7° F and 99.5° F. The temperature is lower in the morning, and higher in the evening. The temperature is increased, when it is over 100.4° F, over 101.3° F it is a fever.
Even though it is often claimed, teething does not cause a fever.
When to Call the Doctor?
You know your child best – so call your pediatrician when you are worried, regardless of the temperature. When you feel uneasy, ask your doctor for specific advice.
Babies under 3 months
Immediately consult your doctor, if your baby’s temperature is 100.4° F or higher. Babies of this age might not react with a higher temperature, even if they have a serious disease. So your child needs to be examined for ill health. If you can‘t reach your paediatrician, go to an emergency room right away, even if it is the middle of the night. Very young babies often don‘t display the typical symptoms, if they have a severe infection.
Babies between 3 and 6 months
See your doctor, if your baby has a fever of 101° F or higher and has symptoms like loss of appetite, unusual behaviour, drowsiness or fussiness, vomiting or diarrhea. Otherwise, if your baby appears well, you don‘t have to see your doctor, except the fever lasts longer than 24 hours.
Babies older than 6 months
If the temperature is 103° F or higher and other symptoms (as aforementioned) show you need to see a doctor. The most important thing is, how your baby looks and behaves. A febrile baby is tired and weak, of course, but if nothing appears out of the ordinary, there is no need to call the doctor.
Also consult a doctor, if your baby:
- drinks too little and has fewer wet diapers
- has a rash – a rash in combination with a fever could be indicative of a more serious disease
- has a difficulty breathing, which is not caused by a blocked nose. This could indicate a pneumonia.
- seems to be ill, but has a temperature that is lower than usually (97° F or less). Newborns and very young babies sometimes don‘t become hot but cold
when they are sick.
Your doctor will probably tell you not to give your under 3 month old baby any fever-reducing medicine until he has checked him and has taken his temperature. This can be important to properly assess the illness – you don‘t want to mask any symptoms before your baby is examined.
Is your baby is older than 3 months and there is no reason to belive that she is seriously sick, he may advise to wait one day before examining your baby. Fever is usually the first symptom that shows of an illness, so at this stage, the doctor cannot draw valid conclusions.
The doctor may advise to bring down the fever with medicines, if your baby feels very uncomfortable.
Since young infants could have a serious infection without a fever, you should see a doctor, if your baby doesn‘t have a fever but one of the following symptoms:
- unusual skin colour
- skips two (or more) meals
- shows a skin rash
- vomits repeatedly
- has a diarrhea
- shows unusual behaviour (e.g, lethargic)
Get emergency care immediately if your baby shows any of these symptoms
apathy and trouble waking up
blue lips, tongue, or nails
infant’s soft spot on the head seems to be bulging out or sunken in
leaning forward and drooling
Treatment of a Fever
Ususally it isn‘t necessary to bring down a fever if your baby appears well, as a fever is actually a measure of the body, to fight pathogens. It is the body‘s weapon so it shouldn‘t be taken away thoughtlessly. There are three indications, whether a fever is serious:
- Temperature: it should be monitored. If the temperature becomes too high, you should call your doctor, as mentioned before. But usually, the feverish temperature is not dangerous in itself.
- Age: If your baby is under 3 months old, a fever could be serious. Otherwise a fever should be carefully watched, but may not be cause for alarm.
- Behaviour: If your baby is playing and feeding, it isn‘t that bad. Watch, how your baby acts and feels. Treat discomfort, rather than fever.
Bring down the Fever?
In general, a fever shouldn‘t be fighted off randomly. Medication should be used sparingly as infections and fevers are important for the child‘s body to build up an immune system. It is comprehensible that you are worried about your little one and feel with him. As parents, a fever scares us and it is, in fact, quite disreputable. But it actually is a highly effective defence against germs.
If fever is making your baby fussy or uncomfortable, there are different ways to bring the temperature down.
Home Comfort Measures
Make sure, your baby gets plenty of rest. Coddle him and do everything that is good for him. Carry your baby close to your body in a baby carrier or snuggle up on the sofa. You could also go out for a gentle walk in the stroller, you don‘t have to stay indoors. But don‘t visit busy places, of course and make sure your baby is cozily wrapped.
Dress your baby appropriately – wrapped up warmly when the temperature increases and lighter when your baby‘s feet and hands feel warm.
If your baby want to play or crawl around, just let her do so. Your baby knows best regarding what is right for her. If she has the energy to play, it is totally fine.
Your febrile baby can‘t attend nursery, of course.
Make sure, your baby gets plenty of fluids. A fever causes the loss of fluids more rapidly than usual, and babies dehydrate quickly. If your baby does not get complementary food yet, frequently offer breast milk or formula. Don‘t give your baby tea or water instead.
If your baby already eats other food, give him the drinks and food he accepts. Don‘t worry, if he eats less than usually or almost nothing, this is totally normal. Don‘t force him to eat. His body is busy fighting germs, reducing the food intake makes sense as it would use energy he needs elsewhere. But drinking is important! Offer it frequently.
There are two medicinal products that can be given:
- Ibuprofen (not recommended for babies under 6 months)
- Infant Acetaminophen
Never give your baby Aspirin – it can cause Reye‘s syndrome, which is a rare but potentially fatal disease.
When giving your baby medication, strictly follow the package recommendations or the instructions by your doctor. Your baby‘s weight and age will determine the correct dosage. Be careful to give the right amount.
Very young babies should not be given medicines, before your doctor has checked your child and has given his OK.
It is important to know, that giving your baby medicines will temporarily bring the temperature down, but it won‘t bring it to its normal level. Also, it won‘t combat the underlying infect.
Instead, it might do the opposite of what you intended: A feverish child needs to rest. There is a reason, why your baby is tired and weak when he has a fever – the body is busy fighting the pathogenic agents. Usually, when giving a medication that brings down the temperature your weak child suddenly becomes lively. Very much to the delight of parents, but it actually isn‘t a good thing, as your baby does not recuperate as she should. So, the recovery process might take even longer.
With household remedies
If you like to try leg compresses for your febrile baby, bear the following rules in mind:
- Leg compresses are not to be used for babies under 6 months, as it may result in a circulatory collapse
- Never use this method, if your baby‘s temperature is still increasing. Monitor the temperature and feel his hands and feet – fever should only be reduced, when it has reached its peak. Only then, the hands and feet of your baby feel warm. Watch your baby‘s fever curve!
- Closely monitor his fever progression. The body temperature should not drop for more than one degree
- 10 minutes are enough