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When your baby or infant has a fever

Alternate Names

Fever - infant; Fever - baby

What to Expect at Home

The first fever in a baby or an infant is often a scary moment for parents. Fortunately, most fevers are harmless and are caused by a mild infection or even over bundling a child.

Regardless, you should report any fever in a newborn that is higher than 100.4 °F, taken rectally, to the child's health care provider.

Fever is an important part of the body's defense against infection. Many older infants develop high fevers with even minor illnesses.

Febrile seizures are another fear of parents and do occur in some children. However, most febrile seizures are over quickly, do not mean your child has epilepsy, and do not cause any permanent harm.

Eating and Drinking

Your child should drink plenty of fluids.

  • Do not give your child too much fruit or apple juice. Dilute these drinks by making them one half water and one half juice.
  • Popsicles or gelatin (Jello) are good choices, especially if the child is vomiting.

Your child can eat foods while having a fever, but do not force the child to eat.

Children who are ill usually tolerate bland foods better. A bland diet is made up of foods that are soft, not very spicy, and low in fiber. You may try:

  • Breads, crackers, and pasta made with refined white flour
  • Refined hot cereals, such as oatmeal and cream of wheat

Treating Your Child's Fever

Do NOT bundle up a child with blankets or extra clothes, even if your child has the chills. This may keep their fever from coming down, or make it higher.

  • Try one layer of lightweight clothing, and one lightweight blanket for sleep.
  • The room should be comfortable, not too hot or too cool. If the room is hot or stuffy, a fan may help.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) help lower fever in children. Sometimes doctors advise you to use both types of medicine.

  • In children under 3 months of age, call your doctor first before giving medicines.
  • Know how much your child weighs, then always check the instructions on the package.
  • Take acetaminophen every 4 - 6 hours.
  • Take ibuprofen every 6 - 8 hours. Do NOT use ibuprofen in children younger than 6 months old.
  • Do NOT give aspirin to children unless your child's doctor tells you to use it.

A fever does not need to come all the way down to normal. Most children will feel better when the temperature drops by even one degree.

A lukewarm bath or sponge bath may help cool a fever.

  • It works better if the child also receives medicine -- otherwise the temperature might bounce right back up.
  • Do NOT use cold baths, ice, or alcohol rubs. These often make the situation worse by causing shivering.

When to Call the Doctor

Talk to your child's doctor or go to the emergency room when:

  • Your child does not act alert or more comfortable when their fever goes down
  • Fever symptoms come back after they had gone away
  • There are no tears when they're crying
  • Their diapers are not wet, or they have not urinated for the last 8 hours
  • Your child:
    • Is younger than age 3 months and has a rectal temperature of 100.4 °F (38 °C) or higher
    • Is age 3 - 12 months and has a fever of 102.2 °F (39 °C) or higher
    • Is under age 2 and has a fever that lasts longer than 24 - 48 hours
    • Has a fever over 105 °F (40.5 °C), unless the fever comes down readily with treatment and the child is comfortable.
    • Has been having fevers come and go for up to a week or more, even if they are not very high.
  • Your child has other symptoms that suggest an illness may need to be treated, such as a sore throat, earache, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting, or a cough.
  • Your child has a serious medical illness, such as a heart problem, sickle cell anemia, diabetes, or cystic fibrosis.
  • Your child recently had an immunization.

Call 911 if your child has a fever and:

  • Is crying and cannot be calmed down (children)
  • Cannot be awakened easily or at all
  • Seems confused
  • Cannot walk
  • Has difficulty breathing, even after their nose is cleared
  • Has blue lips, tongue, or nails
  • Has a very bad headache
  • Has a stiff neck
  • Refuses to move an arm or leg (children)
  • Has a seizure
  • Has a new rash or bruises appear

References

Mick NW. Pediatric fever. In: Marx JA, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier;2009:chap 165.


Review Date: 5/16/2012
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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