Babies And Fevers - 5 Things You Should Know

Fevers are common in early childhood, but they can also be very worrying for parents and caregivers, and are sometimes a real cause for concern. If you have an infant or newborn, or you're expecting one, it's best to educate yourself about baby fever symptoms and about when you should seek medical attention. This way, you know how to act when your child's temperature spikes.

1. What is a Fever, and How Should I Take My Baby's Temperature?

A fever is an indication that your baby's immune system is fighting off a virus or infection. When the body detects a virus or bacteria, it raises its core temperature in an attempt to kill off the invader.

Fevers, therefore, are not usually a cause for concern in themselves, and may not require professional medical attention. As your baby's immune system is still immature, they'll probably get several fevers in their first year, and each is most likely just a sign that they're fighting off a cold or minor infection.

However, fevers can make your child feel uncomfortable, and it's important to keep an eye on their temperature and how they are feeling. It is also critical to look out for other baby fever symptoms that may indicate a more serious infection.

A baby fever is classed as any temperature above 37.5°C in an infant. A high fever does not necessarily indicate a more serious problem (some children naturally get very high fevers whenever they're ill) but a fever in a young baby should always be investigated. Fevers of over 38.3°C in young children can sometimes result in a febrile convulsion (see part 4 of this guide for more information.)

If your baby feels particularly warm to touch, or has other symptoms such as irritability, excessive crying, a runny nose, a rash, vomiting, or being excessively sleepy, you should take their temperature.

You can do this with an infrared forehead thermometer, an ear thermometer, or with a digital thermometer under the arm or tongue. It's not recommended to check your baby's temperature rectally, and the use of old-fashioned glass mercury or alcohol thermometers is not advised for young children as they can cause injury if they break.

Whichever method you choose, you should stay consistent. A temperature reading taken externally under the arm or on the forehead may be up to 0.6°C lower than an oral temperature reading.

2. How to Treat Fever in an Infant

If your baby has a fever but is otherwise eating, drinking and sleeping well and doesn't seem to be in distress, you don't need to do anything. It's not necessary to treat the fever, only the cause of the fever. Sometimes babies can have a fever for a day or two with no other side effects and it will go away without any treatment.

However, you must seek medical advice for any kind of fever in a baby below three months old. If your baby is above three months old and seems unwell, there are a few things you can do to make them more comfortable:

  • Dress them in light clothing and don't wrap them up too warmly in bed, as this can make it difficult for the body to regulate temperature.
  • Sponging their forehead with warm water can help them to cool down, but don't use cold water or put them in a tepid bath, as this can make them too cold, and can be dangerous.
  • Keep your baby hydrated by offering frequent breast feeds, or extra water for babies who are formula-fed or already eating solids.
  • Baby paracetamol can help to bring down a fever. Remember that baby paracetamol is not suitable for babies born prematurely, babies of a low birth-weight, or for babies under one month old. Always check the directions carefully for dosage instructions.
  • Babies over six months old can be given ibuprofen, but this can be irritating to the stomach, so it should always be given with food. Ibuprofen can make symptoms of some illnesses such as chicken pox worse, so it's usually best to try paracetamol first unless advised otherwise by your doctor.
  • Continue to monitor your baby's symptoms and check their temperature regularly, but you don't need to wake them up to check their temperature or give them medication.

3. When to Seek Medical Treatment for Baby Fever

    Call a doctor for advice if your baby is under three months old and has any kind of fever, or has any of the following symptoms alongside with a fever at any age:
  • Rash
  • Medications are not working to bring down the fever
  • Frequent vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Refusal to drink
  • Seems unusually drowsy or pale
  • Has signs of dehydration such as a sunken fontanelle, dry mouth, fewer wet nappies, or no tears when crying
  • Is crying inconsolably or seems to be in pain
  • Has any problems with their breathing
  • Has a fever of 40°C or over
  • Has had a febrile convulsion (see part 4)
  • Seems to be getting worse rather than better
  • Has had a fever for more than 48 hours.

It's always best to trust your instincts. If you're worried about your child, seek medical advice and get them checked over by a doctor just to be sure.

4. What is a Febrile Convulsion?

Febrile convulsions or seizures can be triggered by baby fever, or a high fever in any young child, usually under the age of five. Instances peak at around age two, and occur in around 2 - 5% of young children. If your child has experienced one febrile convulsion, they're around 40% more likely to experience a recurrence. They're also more likely to experience this if you have a family history of febrile seizures.

During a febrile seizure, your child will lose consciousness, experience convulsions, and may shake uncontrollably, go stiff, or twitch. Their eyes may roll back in their head in some cases. Other children may lose consciousness but do not seem to convulse or shake.

Febrile convulsions usually last for a few minutes before your child regains consciousness. They can be very frightening but do not cause any long-term health problems. Despite some similarity in symptoms, these convulsions do not mean that your child has epilepsy.

If your child is having a febrile seizure, stay calm and put them gently on the floor, laying them on their side to prevent injury or choking. Do not hold or restrain your child, and be sure to remove any objects from their mouth if possible.

Time the seizure and call for medical help immediately if it does not stop after five minutes. You should also call for medical help if your baby does not seem to be recovering quickly after coming out of the seizure, or if this is the first time they have had a febrile seizure.

5. When a Fever is a Medical Emergency

If your baby has any of the following symptoms, you should call for medical help or take them to hospital immediately:

  • Severe vomiting and unable to keep fluids down
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing, or very rapid breathing
  • Bulging fontanelle
  • Is fitting or convulsing and has not been diagnosed with febrile convulsions before.

If your baby has a fever, and you want a doctor to visit your home outside the hours of your normal GP services, you can contact 13CURE to arrange a home visit. We offer a range of family medical services in New South Wales, with a team of skilled and caring doctors.

Name: Dr. Muhammad Mohsin, General Practitioner

University Degree: MBBS, AMC

Bio: Dr. Muhammad Mohsin completed his studies from Univerisity of Health Sciences, Lahore Pakistan in 2008. He came to Australia in 2012 and has worked as a resident and GP in various hospitals and medical centres across Australia. He has a particular interest in men's health, travels medicine, chronic disease management, and general family medicine.