When to Take a Baby to the Doctor for a Fever

Baby with high temperature and fever

It’s hard to stay calm when your baby is burning hot. But while a high fever in babies can be a symptom of a serious medical problem, it’s important to remember that fevers are the body’s attempt to kill troublesome germs. In most cases, a fever means your baby’s immune system is doing exactly what it should.

You can handle some baby fevers at home, but others require medical evaluation.

Common Causes of Fever in Babies

Normal human body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (F). Minor fluctuations in temperature are completely normal; our body temperatures typically change throughout the day. A temperature over 99.5 F is considered a fever.

Common causes of a baby fever include:

  • Infection: An elevated temperature is sometimes the first and only symptoms of a bacterial or viral infection. Ear infections, influenza, urinary tract infections, and strep throat frequently cause fevers.

  • Immunizations: Some infants and children develop a fever after receiving immunizations, particularly the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP) and pneumococcal vaccines.

  • Teething: Some babies develop slightly elevated temperatures when cutting teeth. Teething does not cause high fevers, though. If your child’s temperature is higher than 100.0 F, something else is likely causing the fever.

  • Heat: Prolonged exposure to elevated temperatures can cause a fever.

  • Diseases: Some autoimmune diseases and cancers cause fevers.

  • Medication: Certain antibiotics and anti-seizure medications can cause fevers.

Baby Fever Treatment at Home

To treat a fever at home:

  • Offer fluids frequently. Fevers cause children to lose fluid more rapidly than usual. If you’re breastfeeding, offer the breast frequently. (Breastfeeding bonus: If an infection is causing your child’s fever, your breastmilk will adapt and give your baby specially tailored germ-fighting antibodies.) If you’re bottle feeding, you may have better luck offering smaller-than-usual amounts of formula more frequently. You can also offer sips of water. If your baby is already eating solid foods, you can also offer flavored gelatin, juice, ice pops and soup. Sports drinks are not a good option because they contain a lot of unnecessary sugar. If you’re concerned about dehydration, ask your child’s pediatrician if you should try a rehydration drink made for kids, such as Pedialyte.

  • Monitor your child’s temperature. A simple touch will probably be enough to tell you if your baby has a fever, or if his temp has gone up or down. Your child’s medical team needs more objective information, though. The best, most accurate way to measure an infant’s temperature is with a rectal thermometer. Check your child’s temperature when it seems high to you, and before calling a medical professional. Never wake a sleeping baby to take a temperature Sleep is more important to your child’s health than a precise temperature at that particular point in time.

  • Use layers to keep your child comfortable. It’s best to dress your baby in lightweight clothes and add and remove light blankets as needed.

  • Consider over-the-counter fever-reducing medication. Babies younger than 6 weeks should not be given any medication except as directed by a healthcare professional. Infants between the ages of 6 weeks and 2 months can take children’s acetaminophen (Tylenol), but should not be given any medicine until checked by a doctor. If your child is 6 months or older, you can give children’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). Dosage is based on child’s weight. Follow the included instructions or call your healthcare provider or pharmacist for advice.

When to See a Doctor for a Baby Fever

Most fevers go away in a few days. But because a baby fever can be a sign of an underlying problem, call your pediatrician or healthcare practitioner if your child:

  • Is younger than 3 months and has a rectal temperature of 100.4 F or higher.
  • Is between 3 months and 6 months of age and has a rectal temperature higher than 102.0 F.
  • Is listless, lethargic or more irritable than normal.
  • Has a fever that lasts longer than 3 days.

Call 911 and seek immediate medical care if your child has an elevated temperature after being exposed to intense heat, such as inside a parked car or outside in hot weather. Other baby fever symptoms that require emergency medical care include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • A seizure that lasts more than a few minutes
  • Stiff neck
  • Extreme watery or blood-tinged diarrhea
  • Confusion or decreased consciousness

Who to See for a Baby Fever

Your child’s pediatrician or family healthcare provider is the best person to assess your child’s fever. If you can’t reach your usual care provider, you can take your child to an urgent care clinic.

Most fevers will resolve in a few days and are not a sign of serious illness. However, it’s important to pay attention to your child’s symptoms. When in doubt, consult your healthcare provider.

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