Fever and your baby

December 14, 2021

It can be scary when your baby has a fever. Here are some tips to help you better understand why your baby has a fever and what you can do to help them.

What is a fever?

A fever is a body temperature that is higher than normal. Your child’s temperature will vary with age, activity, and even the time of day. For example, babies have a higher temperature than older children. In fact, studies show that healthy babies aged 18 to 24 months can have a temperature of 101°F (38.3 C). And everyone’s temperature is highest between late afternoon and early evening and lowest between midnight and early morning.

A normal temperature can be anywhere from 97.5°F (36.4°C) and 99.5°F (37.5°C). Most health care providers consider a temperature above 100.4°F (38°C) as a sign of a fever.

What causes a fever?

A fever is important in helping your baby or child fight an infection. Running a fever may be a sign that your baby has the flu or COVID-19. If your baby has an illness of some kind, their body temperature will increase. This increase in body temperature is a sign that some of the body’s other natural defenses, such as white blood cells, are attacking the infection. A fever will make your baby feel uncomfortable. It may make them need more fluids, breathe faster and have a faster heart rate.

Getting a vaccine or teething also can cause your baby to run a fever.

How can I treat my baby’s fever?

First, it is important to get an accurate temperature. Feeling your baby’s forehead will not give you a precise measurement. You need to use a thermometer to get the best reading. A rectal thermometer is the most accurate way to measure a baby’s temperature.

It isn’t always necessary to see your health care provider when your child has a fever. Here are some things that can help:

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Motrin® or Advil®) will usually bring down your baby’s temperature. But make sure you give the correct dose.
  • Do not overdress your child.
  • Alcohol baths and ice packs are NOT recommended.
  • Make sure your baby gets a lot of fluids to help prevent dehydration. Signs of dehydration include crying without tears, a dry mouth and fewer wet diapers.

When should I call my baby’s provider?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), you should call your child’s health care provider right away if your child has a fever and:

  • Is younger than 3 months (12 weeks) and has a temperature of 100.4°F (38.0°C) or higher. Call even if your baby doesn’t seem sick. Babies this young can get sick very quickly.
  • The fever rises above 104°F (40°C) repeatedly for a child of any age.
  • Looks very ill, is unusually tired or is very fussy.
  • Has been in a very hot place, such as an overheated car.
  • Has other symptoms, such as a stiff neck, severe headache, severe sore throat, severe ear pain, an unexplained rash or repeated vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Has signs of dehydration, such as a dry mouth, sunken or bulging soft spot on their head or significantly fewer wet diapers, and is not able to take in fluids.
  • Has immune system problems, such as sickle cell disease or cancer, or is taking medications, such as steroids.
  • Has had a seizure. A seizure is when your baby’s whole body or parts of their body move without control.

Also call your child’s doctor if:

  • The fever persists for more than 24 hours in a child younger than 2 years.
  • The fever persists for more than 3 days (72 hours) in a child 2 years of age or older.
  • Your child still seems sick even after their fever is brought down.
  • Your child seems to be getting worse.

All children get fevers, and most times they return to normal in a few days. However, call your provider if you’re not sure what to do or if your baby is acting very differently than normal.