Fever and your baby

mother with sick babyWhen your baby has a fever, it can be very frightening. Here is some information that can help you better understand why your baby has a fever and what you can do to help him.

What is a fever?

A fever is a body temperature that is higher than normal. Your child’s temperature will vary with age, activity, and even the time of day. Babies have a higher temperature than older children. And everyone’s temperature is highest between late afternoon and early evening and lowest between midnight and early morning.

A normal temperature can be anywhere from 97.5°F (36.4°C) and 99.5°F (37.5°C). Most health care providers consider a temperature above 100.4°F (38°C) as a sign of a fever.

What causes a fever?

A fever is important in helping your baby or child fight an infection. If your baby has an illness of some kind, his body temperature will increase. This increase in body temperature signals certain other defenses, such as white blood cells, to work and start attacking the infection. A fever will make your baby feel uncomfortable, increase his need for fluids, and make him breathe faster and his heart beat faster.

How can I treat my baby’s fever?

First, it is important to get an accurate temperature. Feeling your baby’s forehead will not give you a precise measurement—you need to use a thermometer to get the best information. For a baby, a rectal thermometer is the most accurate way to measure temperature.

It isn’t always necessary to see your health care provider when your child has a fever. Here are some things that can help:

  • Acetaminophen (Tyleno®l) or ibuprofen (Motrin® or Advil®) will usually bring down your baby’s temperature. But make sure you give the correct dose.
  • Do not overdress your child. Alcohol bath, ice packs, etc. are NOT recommended and should not be used.
  • Make sure your baby gets a lot of fluids to help prevent dehydration. Signs of dehydration include crying without tears, a dry mouth, and fewer wet diapers.

When should I call my baby’s provider?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), you should call your child’s health care provider right away if he has a fever and:

  • Is younger than 3 months (12 weeks) and has a temperature of 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher. Call even if you baby doesn’t seem sick. Babies this young can get sick very quickly.
  • Fever rises above 104°F (40°C) repeatedly for a child of any age.
  • Looks very ill, is unusually drowsy, or is very fussy.
  • Has been in a very hot place, such as an overheated car.
  • Has other symptoms, such as a stiff neck, severe headache, severe sore throat, severe ear pain, an unexplained rash, or repeated vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Has signs of dehydration, such as a dry mouth, sunken soft spot or significantly fewer wet diapers and is not able to take in fluids.
  • Has immune system problems, such as sickle cell disease or cancer, or is taking medications, such as steroids.
  • Has had a seizure.

Also call your child’s doctor if:

  • The fever persists for more than 24 hours in a child younger than 2 years.
  • The fever persists for more than 3 days (72 hours) in a child 2 years of age or older.
  • Your child still “acts sick” once his fever is brought down.
  • Your child seems to be getting worse.

Have questions? Send them AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

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