Your baby or child awakes in the middle of the night crying, and you notice that her forehead is hot to the touch. The normal temperature for a heathy baby is in between 36.5-37.50C. If your baby’s temperature is above this, she has a fever.
Everyone’s temperature rises in the late afternoon and early evening, falling again between midnight and early morning.
A fever is usually the first sign of an illness or infection and your baby may have no other symptoms. If your baby is reasonably alert, taking fluids and you have been able to lower his temperature, the best thing is to observe. Don’t overdress her. Sponge bathing with tepid water can sometimes help too.
There are lots of options on the market for reducing fever that are safe for babies from a couple of months old. If using these always follow the dosage and check that they are in date. If your child is showing no signs of discomfort from his fever you do not need to medicate. Offer plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
In some ways, a fever can be a good thing: It means your child’s immune system is doing its job by fighting an underlying cold or another infection. The brain commands the body’s temperature to rise, which in turn directs the white blood cells to attack and destroy invading viruses and bacteria. Amazingly, healthy kids of all ages usually can tolerate a fever of up to 400 C with no complications.
As a parent, what you should do about a fever depends largely on your child’s age and the reading. If she’s less than 3 months old, anything reaching 380C or above warrants a quick call to the doctor. Because an infant’s immune system isn’t fully developed, she’s vulnerable to potentially life-threatening infections like bacterial meningitis and pneumonia, and an elevated body temperature is often the only symptom. In small babies who are well but have temperatures in the range of 37.5-38, consider the possibility that your baby may be too warm. Remove layers and check the temperature again.
Since fever is a signal from the body that something is unnatural, pay close attention to your child’s other symptoms. If he has a runny nose and a low-grade fever it usually means he’s got a common cold, while vomiting and diarrhea probably point to a stomach virus. In both cases, the fever tends to come on gradually and to disappear within a few days. If your child is otherwise healthy the physician may simply assume (based on your description) that he has the flu, in which case he’ll need to stay home until he’s fever-free for 24 hours without using a fever medicine.
Something to Note
Let your doctor know right away if your child complains of a sore throat, an earache, or pain while peeing, since these ailments could signal strep throat, an ear infection, or a urinary tract infection, all of which may need to be treated with antibiotics.
Although rare, certain symptoms (which are often accompanied by fever) require immediate medical attention. Head straight for the A&E if your child is extremely short of breath, cries inconsolably, has difficulty waking, or develops a rash that doesn’t blanch when you touch it or has bruised-looking purple spots (both could indicate meningococcemia, a potentially fatal infection of the bloodstream). Also call your pediatrician or GP if your child is under 2 and her fever lasts more than 24 hours.
Bringing Down Fever
While it’s a natural instinct to treat your child’s fever so he feels better, keep in mind that medication will merely mask it, not cure it. “Once a fever reducer wears off, your child’s temperature may score back up because the underlying cause is still there As a general rule, you should focus on the way your child looks, feels, and acts rather than on what the thermometer says.
A tepid bath or washcloth may temporarily cool your child off. Stay away from cold water and ice baths. Giving your child lots of fluids — including ice pops or Jelly — will help his body battle the illness and keep her hydrated. Keep your child in lightweight, breathable clothing; dressing her in layers is best because she may be sweaty one minute and shivering the next. And don’t forget the most helpful home remedy of all: lots of cuddles!
There’s no single right way to take your child’s temperature — but some methods are more beneficial than others:
Con: Mild Discomfort
Pro: It’s the best choice for kids up to age 3 or whenever an exact reading is critical.
Accuracy: The highest
Con: The reading can be thrown off if your child doesn’t keep the thermometer under her tongue until it beeps.
Pro: Most kids 4 and older can use them correctly, and there’s no need to remove their clothing.
Con: If the room is chilly, you may get a false low reading.
Pro: It’s very easy to use.
Con: Doctors say the tip is difficult to insert properly, especially for kids under 1
Pro: It’s fast and convenient.
Accuracy: Varies, be sure to check both ears to ensure accuracy
Con: It’s the costliest type of thermometer.
Pro: Temporal artery models record the temperature in seconds and are comfortable for kids.
When to Phone the Doctor
Use your instinct. If you feel your child is really unwell, never hesitate to seek medical advice.
This information has been verified with Dr. Thurloc Bulger, The Children’s Practice. Sandyford