Infant fevers 101

Just like yours, Baby’s temperature changes during different parts of the day, and for different reasons. So while 98.6 degrees F (37 C) is thought to be the average temperature, there’s a range of temperatures that are considered to be perfectly healthy for Baby – between 97 and 100.3 degrees F (36.1-38 C) is generally considered to be perfectly safe. Fevers are one of the first warning signs when Baby comes down with an illness, and one of the signs that can cause the most stress, but they’re also deceptive – higher fevers don’t always mean more serious illnesses, and even more serious illnesses can only have fairly mild fevers to go with them. That doesn’t mean fevers aren’t important to keep an eye on, though – in fact, depending on the age of your child, there are certain temperatures where the fever alone is a good reason to call the doctor. Even when fevers aren’t high enough to be a cause for concern, it’s important to keep an eye on the symptoms that come with them to start to figure out how serious an illness is.

What to do

If a fever is low enough that it’s not necessary to call your healthcare provider right away, and your child isn’t showing other symptoms that are causes for concern, there are ways you can fight their fever at home. First, don’t bundle them up, since this can raise their temperature even higher. Just like when you have a fever, Baby should get lots of fluids to stay hydrated, but unlike when you’re sick, those fluids shouldn’t be water unless they are already drinking water regularly. If Baby is still getting most of their nutrients from formula or breast milk, and especially if they are 6 months old or younger, their kidneys are still developing, and water could interfere with their balance of electrolytes. Another way to cool Baby down a little is to give them a lukewarm bath, or sponge bath, though not a cold one, since cold could make Baby shiver to warm them, and heat them right back up again.

When to get help

  • Newborns up to 3 months old: Call the doctor immediately for fevers of 100.4 degrees F (38 C) or higher. Until children are 3 months old, their immune systems are still developing, and they may not be able to show all of the symptoms of a severe illness. Children this young often need laboratory testing to make sure they don’t have any serious illnesses
  • 3 to 6 months old: Call a doctor for fevers above 100.4 (38 C), but if your child is acting relatively healthy otherwise, is drinking breast milk or formula, and is making wet diapers, you may not need to visit the doctor or hospital
  • 6 months old or older: Call a doctor for fevers of 102.2 degrees F (39 C) or higher
  • Symptoms to call a doctor over when they come with a fever: Vomiting, diarrhea, earache, headache, listlessness, if a child doesn’t start to feel better once their fever comes down, has an already established serious medical condition, swelling around the soft spot on their head, or is difficult to rouse

What can Baby take?

Fever reducers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen don’t make an illness go away, and are not always necessary if your child has a fever. In fact, studies have shown that in some cases, fevers can actually help to fight off infection. However, your pediatrician may recommend you give Baby a fever reducer if their fever is making them uncomfortable, sapping their energy, or interfering with their sleep or appetite. Acetaminophen is the only fever reducer that is FDA approved for children 6 months old or younger, so acetaminophen products, like Tylenol, might be recommended. However, children under 3 months shouldn’t take fever reducers, and aspirin should never be given to children.

Fever reducers are often unnecessary for low-grade fevers. If Baby is uncomfortable or unhappy over a fever though, fever reducers can make them feel better long enough to help them get hydrated or get some rest, both of which will help them fight whatever illness they are dealing with. Dosing for baby fever reducers is measured by weight, not age, and should be measured out with the measuring cup or spoon that comes with the medicine, as kitchen measuring spoons can vary in size, and give an inexact dose.

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