A baby’s first fever is often scary for parents, but there’s no need to panic. Most fevers are harmless and are caused by mild viruses or infections. And while some fevers need to be looked at more seriously, your pediatrician will help you navigate this parental rite of passage, and help keep your baby safe and healthy.
How Do I Spot an Infant Fever?
Mom’s hand on the forehead may bring back soothing memories, but especially in infants, it’s not really an accurate way to tell if your baby has a fever.
Use a digital thermometer to check your baby’s temperature, and for children under 6 months, a rectal reading is recommended. Sometimes taking a rectal temperature can be a little daunting for new parents, but it gets easier with time and practice, and absolutely provides the most effective reading at home. Using a rectal thermometer doesn’t cause pain for your baby as long as you’re careful and hold your baby in a position that keeps them calm and still. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends holding your baby belly-down on your lap or placing him on his back and bending his legs to his chest. Just be careful and only insert the thermometer one-half to one inch for an accurate, comfortable reading.
Some other signs of fever include a baby who is especially sleepy or extra fussy. If you notice your baby is a little off in this way, take his temperature even if he’s not warm to the touch.
Infants often have higher fevers than older children, often spiking in the late afternoon or early evening, according to the AAP. So a baby who seems fine in the morning may show signs of fever later in the day.
What Causes a Baby to Have a Fever?
Fevers are usually caused by viruses or other types of infection. According to the AAP, some of the frequent causes of fever in infants include croup, pneumonia, influenza, ear infections and severe colds.
It’s important to remember that fevers themselves are not illnesses but symptoms of illness. In most cases, they are a sign that your baby’s immune system is doing its job and fighting a virus or infection. However, sometimes a fever can be a warning sign of something more serious. That’s why, especially with the youngest infants, your pediatrician will typically want to see your baby when he has a fever.
How Can I Treat My Baby’s Fever?
The most important thing is to keep your baby hydrated when he has a fever. Dehydration is one of the biggest risks when infants become sick. Make sure that your baby continues to take in fluids including breast milk, and formula.
In some cases, your doctor may recommend fever reducer in infant drop form – acetaminophen for younger babies or ibuprofen for babies who are at least 6 months old. But while parents should have these over the counter medicines on hand, it’s important to call your doctor before giving any medication to an infant. Once you get approval from your pediatrician, carefully read the directions and use a dosing syringe or dropper to get the exact right amount recommended by your doctor. The AAP recommends squirting the liquid medicine between the tongue and side of the mouth to make it easier to swallow.
Finally, if your baby seems fussy, hot, or irritable, a lukewarm bath may make him more comfortable.
My Baby Has a Fever, Should They See the Doctor?
Not every kiddo who has a fever needs to go to the doctor. Sometimes rest and fluids are all a little one needs to get well. However, with infants, and especially with babies under 3 months old, we want to be a little more cautious. In line with AAP guidelines, we recommend bringing babies under 2 months to the emergency room if their temperature reaches 100.4 degrees. For babies 3 to 6 months old, call your pediatrician for a fever of 101 degrees or higher, and for babies over 6 months old the threshold is 103 degrees.
Here are some other warning signs identified by the AAP that may mean a visit to the pediatrician is in order:
- Baby is unusually sleepy or very fussy
- Baby has repeated vomiting or diarrhea
- Baby shows signs of dehydration including a dry mouth, sunken soft spot or unusually low number of wet diapers.
- Febrile seizures sometimes occur in infants over 6 months old because of a rapid rise in body temperature. These fever-related seizures are not related to epilepsy and usually not cause for alarm, but we do recommend seeing your doctor.
- Finally, if your baby just isn’t himself, it may be a good idea to bring him in to the office. Sometimes parents just know when something isn’t right.
Your Pediatrician Is Your Partner In Helping Your Baby Get Well
There are so many daunting and scary parts of being a new parent, and handling a baby’s first fever is certainly one of them. The sense of panic will usually diminish after you successfully navigate the first few childhood illnesses. In some cases, your doctor will want to see your baby right away, while in other cases, rest, fluids and TLC from mom and dad are all that’s needed. In either case, call Loudoun Pediatric Associates for help and guidance. Our pediatricians and staff are here for you to help guide you through giving your baby the best possible care. Contact us today for any question you may have regarding your baby’s fever.