Babies and young children get fevers. That's a given. But if you're a first-time parent, it's hard not to worry when your child is feverish. You should be aware that the degree of fever is not always directly related to the severity of your baby's illness. He could have a high fever and be only mildly ill, or, conversely, he could have a serious infection accompanied by a low-grade fever. Physicians recommend rechecking a child's temperature before you call to rule out other reasons for overheating, such as a warm room, too many clothes, or energetic playing.
Once you know your baby does have a temperature, how do you know when simple TLC is enough and when you should call your healthcare provider? These guidelines may help:
If your baby is under 3 months old, call your physician right away if his temperature goes above 100.4 degrees F (38 degrees C).
If your baby is 3 months or older, you can usually let fevers under 101 degrees F (38.3 degrees C) run their course as long as your baby is eating and acting normally and has no other symptoms.
Physicians recommend that you observe how sick your child seems before calling. A listless, sick-looking 1-year-old with a temperature of 99 degrees F needs to be seen very soon, whereas a child of the same age who is playing, smiling, and drinking normally but has a temperature of 103 degrees may not. As the parent, you know better than anyone what is normal behavior for your child. However, if you are ever in doubt, call your physician.
No matter what age your baby is, call your physician immediately if he has a fever and any of the following symptoms or disorders:
Difficulty waking up or listlessness
First-time or unusually severe or long febrile convulsions
Fresh purple (not red) spots on the skin
Difficulty breathing that does not get better after clearing his nose
Looking or acting very sick
Refusal to drink/nurse
An underlying disorder or treatment affecting the immune system
Here are ways to help make your baby more comfortable at home:
Dress your baby in loose, lightweight cotton clothing. Use only a sheet or light blanket for covering. Bundling a baby to "burn out" a fever can cause his fever to rise even higher.
Keep his room cool. If necessary, place a fan nearby, but far enough away that he can't hurt himself.
Make sure to give your baby plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, especially if he's vomiting or has diarrhea. Babies need plenty of what they usually drink (breast milk, formula, water) when they're sick. If he's old enough to drink other beverages, offer ice pops, clear soups, or diluted fruit juice.
Give your baby acetaminophen, such as Children's Tylenol or Panadol, or ask your physician about using ibuprofen (e.g. Advil, Motrin or Nuprin). Follow dosage instructions carefully. If ever in doubt, check with your physician before medicating your child, especially if he is less than 3 months of age. Never give an infant or child aspirin. Aspirin has been linked to Reye's syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal illness.
Try a sponge bath if the medication doesn't help or your baby is vomiting. Sit him in a shallow tub of lukewarm water, and rub his body with a clean, lightly wrung washcloth or sponge one area at a time. Don't dry him off -- let the water evaporate and cool his body. Keep the room at about 75 degrees Fahrenheit (23.9 degrees Celsius), and keep sponging him until he feels more comfortable. It may take 30 to 45 minutes for the fever to go down. However, if you are concerned about your baby's fever, consult with your physician. Never put alcohol in the water. It can be absorbed into the skin and could lead to more severe complications.
Keep your baby away from other children and elderly people if his fever is due to a contagious disease.
Don't restrict your infant to bed, but don't allow him to overexert himself either.
Don't starve a fever. Sick babies need plenty of calories and liquids.
Don't use rubbing alcohol to bring a fever down. It can be toxic.
Don't worry too much. If you are armed with the right facts and give your baby lots of tender loving care, he'll be back to normal soon.