Your Baby Has a Fever -- What Should You Do?

by Bridgette R. Odom

Baby Has FeverThe first time your baby gets sick can be scary. If a fever accompanies other symptoms, you might be ready to panic! Chances are you're not the only one feeling that way.

One of our members, Chelsea, had a scary experience with her daughter.

"My daughter woke up with a temperature of 101°. By afternoon it was 104°," Chelsea shares. "My doctor had us bring her in for tests. They said she had a virus. After five days, her fever broke."

Recent research indicates that fevers in children play an important role in fighting diseases. Fevers are thought to interfere with the growth of infections and boost the body's immune system response.

It's hard to feel like you're "doing nothing" when your baby's sick and uncomfortable, but sometimes a watchful eye is the best medicine. Other times, you'll need to treat the fever.

Fever Basics

Fevers in babies usually signal an infection. These can be mild, such as a common cold or more severe, like bacterial pneumonia. Even bundling your wee babe too well can cause a rise in temperature.

What is a Fever?

A fever is a rise in your child's body temperature above normal levels. Many doctors define a fever as a temperature above 100.4°F (38.0°C) rectally or an oral temperature above 99.5°F (37.5°C).

How to Take Your Baby's Temperature

A rectal temperature provides the most accurate reading in babies under one year old. The AAP recommends that you choose a thermometer that doesn't contain mercury.

Here's how to take a rectal temperature:

  • Lubricate the tip of a rectal thermometer with petroleum jelly.
  • Place your baby across your lap on his or her belly.
  • Separate the buttocks and gently insert the thermometer 1" into the rectum.
  • Hold it in place until it beeps.
  • Remove the thermometer and read it.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor if your baby:

  • Is younger than three-months-old and has a rectal temperature of 100.4 °F (38 °C) or higher.
  • Is age 3 to 12 months and has a fever of 102.2 °F (39 °C) or higher.
  • Is under age 2 and has a fever that lasts longer than 24 to 48 hours.
  • Has a fever over 105 °F (40.5 °C), unless the fever comes down readily with treatment and the child is comfortable.
  • Has been having fevers come and go for up to a week or more, even if they are not very high.
  • If your baby just received an immunization

Call Your Doctor if the Fever Includes:

Physical changes
✔ Stiff neck
✔ Purple spots on the skin; a rash
✔ Difficulty breathing
✔ Excessive drooling or trouble swallowing
✔ Seizures

Behavior changes
✔ Appears sluggish
✔ Won't nurse or take a bottle
✔ Cries even when comforted
✔ Difficult to awaken

Because babies' immune systems aren't well developed at birth, any infant younger than three-months-old with a fever should be seen by a doctor.

Treating Your Older Baby's Fever

What should you do when your older baby has a fever?

Don't panic! The American Academy of Pediatrics describes fever as "a positive sign that the body is fighting infection."

Evaluate your baby. Just because you shouldn't panic doesn't mean that you should ignore your child's fever. While fever might be a good thing, it can make your baby feel miserable.

If your baby's uncomfortable, treat the fever.
✔ Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen (if your baby is at least six-months-old) to reduce the fever. Follow the dosing information on the package.
✔ You can alternate each medicine every three hours for maximum effect.
✔ Sponge bathe your baby with tepid water.
✔ Don't overdress your baby.

Keep your baby hydrated. Encourage breast or bottle-feeding. Give an electrolyte replacment drink such as Pedialyte™ between feedings. Count wet diapers. A hydrated baby has a wet diaper every three to hour hours.

• Continue to check for changes in how your baby looks and acts.

What is Febrile Seizure?

A febrile seizure is a convulsion that happens in a child with a fever. Most febrile seizures are over quickly and doesn't mean your child has epilepsy. These seizures won't cause any permanent harm.

During most febrile seizures, a baby will faint and then have convulsions or twitching of the arms and legs. It generally ends after a minute or two.

How to Handle a Febrile Seizure

Lay your baby on his or her side. Don't try to stop the convulsion or place anything in the mouth. Watch the clock. If the seizure last more than five minutes, call 911.

After the seizure stops, call your doctor. You might receive instructions for treating fever or asked to bring your baby in right away for an evaluation.


Medical references:
-October 10, 2010. When Your Baby or Infant Has a Fever. National Library of Medicine. Updated by: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine.