What is a fever for babies?
The baby fever is considered as a symptom, of another disease rather than an illness itself. When the immune system is fighting against an illness inside the body, it usually indicates fever. In most cases, fever could be a symptom of a common cold or other viral infections.
However, many parents have a tendency to misinterpret typical temperature rises with fever. As any good parent would do, you might rush to the hospital or end up calling your pediatrician middle of the night. It is important to remember that, baby’s temperature can slightly rise due to many reasons other than having a fever and technically, not all high temperature qualify as fever.
When measured orally, if the temperature is about 98.6°F (37°C) and when taken rectally, if the temperature is about 99.6°F (37.5°C), that is considered as a normal body temperature. Many doctors define a fever when the oral temperature above 99.5°F (37.5°C) or when the rectal temperature above 100.4°F (38°C). If your baby is having the oral temperature of 99.2°F, this might be just a simple temperature rise due to immediate weather change or being over-dressed etc.
Bacterial or viral fever
Viral fever is a result of another illness which caused by a virus. This virus can be an intestinal infection, the flu, or the common cold. Typically, viral fevers are not serious and tend to go away within three days’ time period. If your baby’s symptoms are getting better and if the baby is older than 6 months, there is nothing to worry about.
On the other hand, bacterial fevers are caused by bacterial infections and this is considered to be more serious than viral fevers. Ear infection, urinary tract infection, bacterial meningitis, or bacterial pneumonia can be the underlying cause of a bacterial fever. Even though they are less common than viral fever, bacterial fevers are more serious as it could lead to critical illness without proper treatments.
Symptoms of fever
The most common sign of fever is baby’s warm forehead, but this does not necessarily indicate that your baby is having fever or not. Sometimes, even without a warm forehead, a baby might be having a fever.
Here is a list of other symptoms associated with fever in babies:
- Poor sleeping
- Poor eating
- Unusually sleepy, or very fussy
- Lack of interest in play
- Less active or even lethargic
- Convulsions or seizures
Fever can stimulate certain body functionalities to defence or protect immune system of the baby against bacteria. When the immune system is fighting against infection, baby can feel uncomfortable depending on the underlying illness. The most common illnesses associated with fever are cold, croup and sore throat. In some cases, fever might be associating with pneumonia, influenza, urinary tract infections, meningitis or range of viral illnesses.
If your baby is 6 months or older and has a normal temperature rise, they may not need to be treated for the fever. It is probably fine to wait and see if the fever goes down on its own without medical treatment. But if the baby feels uncomfortable, not eating or sleeping, then always go to a pediatrician.
Fever or Heatstroke
It is a common mistake to confuse fever with heat-related illness or heatstroke. Being overdressed in hot and humid weather, staying a sunny or hot place can cause your baby’s temperature to rise dangerously high levels above 105°F (40.5°C). Such instances are not caused by infection or an internal condition, it’s the result of surrounding heat.
Heatstroke must be brought down to normal temperature immediately and should visit a pediatrician or a hospital soon. Sponging the baby with cool water, keep them near a fan or moving the baby to a cooler place can help to cool down your baby’s temperature.
How to take temperature of a baby
Many parents are reluctant to use a digital rectal thermometer to take the baby’s temperature. Although, it is the most accurate way to take the temperature of babies who are below 3 months of age. If your baby is older than 3 months, it is fine to take temperature orally, unless the doctor advice you otherwise. Whichever the age, always use a digital thermometer as a mercury thermometer can expose your baby to toxin (Mercury is an environmental toxin) if it got damaged.
- Label the rectal thermometer and oral thermometer separately.
- Keep the thermometers away from your baby.
- Do not leave your child alone while using a thermometer.
- Remember to clean the thermometer in the lukewarm soapy water and rinse it well with cool water prior to taking the baby’s temperature.
- When taking baby’s temperature orally, wait at least 20 minutes after baby finishes a meal or having hot or cold beverages.
- Do not cover up your baby too tightly just before taking the temperature.
- Wait for some time after the baby just has had a bath before taking the temperature.
- Once done with taking the temperature, clean it with cool and soapy water or rub some alcohol.
Taking baby’s temperature rectally
Place the baby’s belly down across your lap. Coat the tip of the thermometer with some moisturizing cream or petroleum jelly (this may reduce discomfort for the baby) and insert into the rectum for about half an inch. Hold the thermometer still, until it bees. Remove the thermometer carefully and check the reading.
Taking baby’s temperature orally
Place the digital thermometer under your baby’s tongue, towards the back of the mouth. Make sure your child close his or her lips on the thermometer and do not let them bite it or talk. When it beeps, remove it carefully and check the digital reading.
Baby Fever treatments
- For babies younger than 3 months
If the baby is younger than 3 months and has rectal temperature 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, needs to be brought to a doctor’s attention as soon as possible, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). This can be a serious infection in young babies.
The best practice is not to give any medicine or try to reduce fever unless your doctor advised on that. Because it is not good to mask or hide any symptoms before your baby is thoroughly examined by a doctor.
Baby fever cannot be distinguished between a bacterial fever and a viral fever without proper examinations. Also, according to emergency room physician Gaines explains, “Young babies don’t show signs of severe infection like older babies do.” A young baby may develop a full-fledged infection and not show any related symptoms in the beginning. Therefore, it is recommended to go to a hospital or emergency care unit if young babies have the fever.
- For babies between 3 months to 3 years
If your baby has a low-grade temperature up to 102°F (38.8°C), you might want to avoid giving them medicine unless the baby is in constant discomfort, the child is achy and fussy or the temperature slowly rises above 1020F(38.8°C).
Acetaminophen (one brand name: Children’s or Infants’ Tylenol) and Ibuprofen (two brand names: Children’s Advil, Children’s Motrin) are widely used medicines to relieve pain and lower fever. Although, Ibuprofen is only suitable for babies older than 6 months of age.
You can find the correct dosage of these drugs on the label or consult your doctor if you have any doubts. Typically, correct dosage depends on the weight and age of the baby; depending on the temperature level, doctors may advise otherwise.
Under any circumstances do not give your baby “aspirin” without doctor’s recommendation. In rare cases, it causes Reye’s syndrome in children. Reye’s syndrome is a serious illness that can lead to death and as doctors recommend, parents are advised not to give aspirin to babies who are younger than 18 months.
Treat the baby not the fever
Of course, when the baby’s temperature goes up, it’s natural for any parent to panic and worry about that number. A high fever does not always indicate your baby’s sickness is getting worse or vice versa. A baby with a temperature of 1030F may appear perfectly comfortable while another baby with the temperature of 1020F may be tired, fussy and need to comfort constantly.
Pediatricians often advise parents to treat the discomfort of the baby rather than fever itself. If parents focus on reducing the fever that might temporarily comfort you seeing the number goes down. But it won’t necessarily cure the underlying disease of your baby.
Therefore, pay close attention to your baby’s symptoms and behavior to determine baby’s health status. Based on that, ask for doctor’s advice on relevant treatments. According to pediatricians “Listlessness and fatigue, for example, are better indicators of illness than temperature.”
How to comfort the baby
- Give plenty of fluids to drink to prevent dehydration of the baby. Especially if the baby is vomiting or having diarrhea. (E.g. water, breast milk, formula, fruit juices, popsicles and flavored gelatin etc.)
- Do not force feed your baby as long as they are getting enough fluids.
- Let the baby have plenty of rest and sleep.
- Keep the room temperature at about 70°F to 74°F.
- Keep your baby dressed in light clothes. Overdressing can increase the temperature level and may discomfort your baby too.
- Cover your baby with a blanket if they have chills and remove it when necessary.
- If and only when a doctor recommends, give your baby a lukewarm bath to lower the fever. (If the bath is given without medications, the baby may start shivering as the body tries to raise its temperature again.)
Tips on giving medicine
- The maximum number of dosage is 5 doses per day. Do not give more than that unless doctor advice otherwise.
- Do not give any medications to young babies under 3 months of age without doctor’s recommendation.
- Before giving medications, read the instructions carefully and if you have doubts, talk to a doctor or pediatrician.
- When giving liquid medicines, use a liquid measuring device to measure the correct dose. Many liquid bottles come with such devices and if not, you can find them at a drug store or at a pharmacy.