When is your baby’s fever dangerous?

March 14, 2014 12:00 AM by

Getting sick is a fact of life. We've all been there at some point or another, and it's never fun. Once you have your first born, it's going to be your responsibility to take care of him or her during sickness. One of the most common issues in babies and small children is fever. While a fever isn't a sickness in itself, it's often a symptom of another illness that may require medical attention. But how do you know if your child has a fever, and when should you call his or her health care provider? Here's everything you need to know about fever in infants.

Recognize the symptoms
The most common indicator that your baby has a fever is a forehead that feels warm to the touch. He or she may also be crankier than usual. Other fever symptoms that you may notice are trouble sleeping, lack of appetite, lack of interest in play, lethargy or, in severe cases, convulsion or seizure.

Know how to get a reading
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a healthy baby has a normal body temperature between 97 and 100.3 degrees Fahrenheit. If your infant's rectal temperature is higher than 100.4 degrees or your 3- to 12-month-old child has a fever above 102.2 degrees, it's time to call your child's health care provider. So how do you take his or her temperature to get an accurate reading?

A few different types of thermometers should have been on your list of things you need for a new baby. Go for digital models, since glass ones may break and let dangerous mercury out into the air.

The best, most effective method of taking your child's temperature is a rectal reading, particularly if your baby is less than 3 months old. To take his or her temperature, first clean the thermometer with soap and water or rubbing alcohol. Lay your baby on his or her belly or on his or her back with the legs bent toward the chest. Use a dab of petroleum jelly to coat the end of the thermometer, then gently insert it about 1 inch into the rectum. Hold it still until you hear it beep, then gently remove it.

You can also take your baby's temperature under his or her arm, or use an ear thermometer. But if you get a reading that's above 99 degrees, it's best to check the rectal temperature for the most accurate reading.

Help bring the fever down
If your child's fever isn't very high and you don't think that calling a health care provider is necessary, there are ways you can help the fever subside. First, make sure your child is drinking plenty of fluids. While you might be tempted to bundle your child up in extra clothes or blankets, especially if he or she has the chills, this should be avoided, as it might prevent the fever from coming down or make it go higher. A lukewarm bath or sponge bath may help, but don't use cold water or ice.

Doctors often recommend acetaminophen or ibuprofen (or a combination of both) to help bring down the fever. Ask a health care provider before giving medicine to a baby younger than 3 months. Otherwise, follow the dosing instructions on the medicine's label.

Assess whether it's going down
Your child should start feeling better as the fever goes down. However, there are certain times when you should call your baby's doctor or head to the emergency room. If your child doesn't get more alert as the fever goes down, the fever symptoms come back after going away, your child isn't shedding tears despite crying, your child hasn't urinated for the last eight hours, your baby has had a fever for longer than 24 – 48 hours, your child has other symptoms or another illness, or your baby recently got a vaccination, call the doctor or go to the ER.

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