It can be concerning to wake up in the middle of the night to a crying baby, and find they’re flushed or hot to the touch. The thermometer confirms your suspicions: Your baby has a fever. But what should you do?
It’s important to learn how to comfort your feverish baby and recognize when you need to seek medical care.
While you may be able to feel a temperature difference through touch alone, it’s not an accurate method of diagnosing fever. When you suspect that your baby has a fever, take your baby’s temperature with a thermometer.
A rectal temperature of more than 100.4°F (38°C) is considered a fever. In most cases, a fever is a sign that your baby’s body is fighting an infection.
A fever can stimulate certain bodily defenses to protect against invading viruses and bacteria. While this is a positive step in fighting infection, a fever can also make your baby uncomfortable. You may also notice that they’re breathing faster.
Fever is typically associated with the following illnesses:
- ear infections
- sore throat
- blood, bowel, and urinary tract infections
- a range of viral illnesses
Fevers can lead to dehydration if your baby is not drinking well or is vomiting with their illness. Young children can get dehydrated quickly. Symptoms of dehydration may include:
- crying without tears
- dry mouth
- fewer wet diapers
Unless your baby seems uncomfortable and isn’t sleeping, eating, or playing normally, it’s fine to wait and see if the fever goes away on its own.
Speak with your pediatrician about administering a dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen. These usually reduce fever by at least a degree or two after 45 minutes or so. Your pharmacist or doctor can give you the correct dosage information for your baby. Do not give your baby aspirin.
Make sure your baby isn’t overdressed, and be sure to offer fluids regularly. Dehydration can be a concern for a feverish baby.
To comfort your baby, try these methods:
- give a sponge bath or a lukewarm bath
- use a cooling fan
- remove extra clothing
- offer extra fluids
Check your baby's temperature again after you have tried these things. Continue to check the temperature to see if the fever is getting lower, or getting higher.
If your baby is breastfeeding, try to nurse more often to prevent dehydration. Try to keep your child’s room comfortably cool. Use a fan to circulate air if the room is overly warm or stuffy.
Call your pediatrician immediately if your baby has a fever that is accompanied by any of the following symptoms:
- an unexplained rash
- a seizure
- acting very ill, unusually sleepy, or very fussy
If your baby is younger than 3 months and you’ve taken a rectal temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, call the doctor.
Newborn babies can have difficulty regulating body temperature when they’re sick. This means they may become cold instead of hot. If your newborn has a temperature lower than 97°F (36°C), call the doctor.
Sometimes, babies older than 6 months can have seizures that are triggered by fever. They’re called febrile seizures, and they sometimes run in the family.
In many instances, a febrile seizure will take place during the first few hours of the illness. They can be just seconds long, and usually last less than one minute. A baby may stiffen, twitch, and roll their eyes before becoming limp and unresponsive. They may have skin that looks darker than usual.
It can be a very concerning experience for parents, but febrile seizures almost never result in long-term damage. Still, it’s important to report these convulsions to your baby’s doctor.
If your baby seems to be having trouble breathing, call 911 or your local emergency services immediately. Also call immediately if the seizure continues for more than five minutes.
In rare cases, a fever may be confused with heat-related illness, or heatstroke. If your baby is in a very hot place, or if they’re overdressed in hot and humid weather, heatstroke may occur. It’s not caused by infection or an internal condition.
Instead, it’s the result of surrounding heat. Your baby’s temperature can rise to dangerously high levels above 105°F (40.5°C) that must be brought down again quickly.
Methods for cooling your baby include:
- sponging them with cool water
- fanning them
- moving them to a cooler place
Heatstroke should be considered an emergency, so immediately after cooling down your baby, they must be seen by a doctor.
A fever can be frightening, but it’s important to remember that it’s not usually a problem. Keep a close eye on your baby, and remember to treat them, not the fever.
If they seem uncomfortable, do what you can to offer comfort. If you’re feeling unsure about your baby’s temperature or behavior, don’t hesitate to speak with your child’s doctor.