Being the parent of a toddler is stressful enough, but it gets all the more scarier if your baby’s temperature shoots up. Waking up in the middle of the night to your baby crying and then realizing that s/he has a fever is a nightmare. However, during such times, it’s important to remain calm and not get anxious.
We have put together a go-to manual for when your baby has a fever. We’ve provided the answers for the most commonly asked questions for when your baby is feverish. Just follow a few simple steps, stay calm and your baby will be fine in no time.
1. Is it a fever?
Usually, if your baby has a slightly raised temperature, it is an indication that the s/he could have a fever. A fever isn’t an illness in itself but is a symptom of illness. It usually means that the baby’s body is fighting off an infection. By checking the baby’s temperature, you can usually confirm if s/he has a fever.
2. How do I know it’s fever for sure?
Most doctors agree that normal body temperatures for babies lie in the range of 97 and 100.3 degrees Fahrenheit, that is, 36 and 38 degree Celsius, respectively. If in case your baby's temperature is higher than 100.4 degrees, s/he has a fever.
Also, pay attention to your baby's symptoms and behaviour. Usually, the baby’s symptoms are a better indicator of fever rather than the temperature. For example, fatigue and tiredness are more indicative than temperature.
Take note that a baby’s body temperature can change due to several other factors - from physical exertion to a warm bath to being a little overdressed or even the weather. Sometimes, even the time of the day matters - body temperature for babies rises in the late afternoon and early evening and falls between midnight and early morning.
3. How do I measure the baby’s temperature?
There are many ways to measure a baby’s body temperature - rectal, temporal artery, underarm, pacifier and ear. Among these, the most accurate and trustworthy method is the rectal temperature, even if you are reluctant to use this. It is also strongly suggested that, for babies, one must use a digital thermometer, as it is the safest, and won’t cause harm even if it has been damaged.
4. What kind of fever might my baby have?
Most often, you can’t detect the type of fever by just a physical examination. There are two types of fever that your baby can have - viral and bacterial.
Doctors say that a viral fever is a result of when your baby's body is fighting off an illness caused by a virus, whether it's an intestinal infection, the flu, or a common cold. However, bacterial fevers, on the other hand, are caused by a bacterial infection, such as an ear infection (which can be bacterial or viral), a urinary tract infection, bacterial meningitis or bacterial pneumonia. Bacterial infections are less common than viruses, and more concerning because they can lead to serious illness if left untreated. Antibiotics are usually required to treat bacterial illnesses.
You should be slightly more concerned about the fever if your baby is less than 3 months old. This is because - (a) the protective layer of cells in your baby’s body is very thin and (b) serious symptoms of more dangerous illnesses cannot be detected easily. It is advisable that you contact a doctor immediately, if your baby is less than 3 months and has a fever.
5. What should I do if my baby has fever?
Keep in mind that fever is the body’s way of fighting off an infection. So, a fever is actually an indication that your baby’s body is normal and his/her immune system is working. Fevers trigger the immune system into working against bacteria/viruses and don’t cause harm by themselves.
Parents might believe that the higher the fever, the sicker the child, but that's not always the case. A baby with a temperature of 103 degrees may appear perfectly comfortable, happily playing, while a baby with a temperature of 101 may be fussy and tired and may need to be held constantly.
It is important to make your baby comfortable during a fever. One of the best home remedies is to try bringing down the baby's temperature with a sponge bath. With slightly warm water (85 to 90 degrees), wipe down your baby's skin, particularly the forehead and underarms.
Babies need to be hydrated often when they have a fever, so it is advisable to provide them breast milk and formula. It would also help to dress your baby in light clothes and keep the environment comfortable and cool.
If your baby is still uncomfortable, only then would fever-reducing medication be a good choice. Don't give medicine to a baby younger than 3 months without a doctor's approval.
Medicines such as ibuprofen (for babies who are at least 6 months old) and acetaminophen temporarily reduce fever and can help to relieve discomfort. However, these too must be given only with the doctor’s approval.