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Fever in Babies: When to Call the Doctor

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Fever in Babies: When to Call the Doctor

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When babies have a fever, it can be traumatic for the parents. This article deals with how to take care of a baby with a fever and when to seek medical help.

Medically reviewed by

iCliniq medical review team

Published At December 18, 2017
Reviewed AtApril 13, 2024


Fever is not an illness by itself, but a symptom. It can be due to virus or bacteria. Viral fevers that come with the common flu or cold tend to subside within three days. They do not require antibiotics as these medicines have no effect on the virus. On the other hand, bacterial fevers like urinary tract infection or ear infections are more critical and require the administration of a course of antibiotics.

Irrespective of the cause of fever, a rectal or ear temperature higher than 100.4 F (38°C) or an oral or underarm temperature higher than 99.5 F (37.5°C) is considered a fever.

How Is the Rectal Temperature Measured?

In babies under six months, the ear canals are still too small and temperatures recorded using an oral or ear thermometer are not too accurate. So, it must be recorded using a rectal thermometer which gives the most accurate reading. There are specific rectal thermometers available online designed for kids.

1. Clean the thermometer with soap and water and wipe dry.

2. Coat the bulb of the syringe with petroleum jelly for ease of insertion.

3. Place the baby on the changing table face up with their legs bent towards their chest with your free hand resting on the back of their thighs. Alternatively, you can place the baby facing down on your lap with your free hand resting on their lower back.

4. Switch on the thermometer.

5. Insert the bulb half to 1 inch into the anus. Stop if you feel any resistance.

6. Hold it in place lightly for two minutes until you hear the beep.

7. Read the temperature.

8. Wipe it well with rubbing alcohol, rinse and dry.

9. Label it as rectal so that no one mistakenly uses it orally.

What Are the Various Signs and Symptoms?

Trust the signs rather than the number on the thermometer. If the baby is under three months old, fever of any temperature is considered serious. Since temperature regulation in such young babies is still developing, it is advised to consult the doctor as quickly as possible.

You can suspect fever in babies if:

  • Babies are warmer than usual.

  • Babies are sweaty and flushed.

  • When babies refuse to feed and are unable to sleep.

  • Unhealthy diet.

  • Excessive weeping or crying.

  • Decreased activity and diminished interest in play, accompanied by warmth to the touch.

  • Difficulty breathing.

  • Cervical stiffness.

  • Uneven skin tone.

  • Seizures.

  • Fever symptoms in neonates.

The indicators for newborns are identical to those for older infants. It is recommended to check their temperature immediately so you know if the fever is getting worse or going away with treatment.

What Factors Contribute to Infant Fever?

There are no factors associated with a fever.

Fever is typically an indication that the immune system is preparing to attack an infection. Typically, fever in neonates signifies the initiation of a viral infection, such as the common cold. Pneumonia, urinary tract infections, ear infections, and more severe infections like meningitis or blood bacterial infections are less common causes of fever.

Among additional causes of fever in infants are:

  • Immunocompromised individual.

  • Too much time spent outdoors on a humid day or excessive clothing that causes overheating.

When Would It Be Advisable to Consult a Physician?

Regardless of your baby's age, it is important to call the doctor if fever is accompanied by the following symptoms:

  1. Vomiting.

  2. Diarrhea.

  3. Skin rashes.

  4. Fewer wet diapers.

  5. Seizures.

  6. Breathing difficulty.

  7. Trouble swallowing.

  8. Change in skin color.

  9. If you suspect he/ she is not acting normal.

What Is Possible to Do at Home?

Keep the baby hydrated with lots of fluids, be it breastmilk, formula, clear soup, or boiled and cooled water.

If the baby takes solids, let them eat when they feel like. Do not force them to eat any more than they want to.

Allow them to go about their usual activities if they choose to. Bed rest is not necessary if they would rather be active.

Do not overdress them. Dressing them in loose cotton clothes with the head and forehead uncovered will keep them comfortable.

You can give them sponge baths with lukewarm water. Never use cold water for sponge baths.

Avoid sending them to childcare or nursery until the fever subsides.

Check on them often during the night.

Give fever-reducing medicine if they are approved by the doctor.

What Treatments Are Administered to Infants?

Do not give the baby any medicine without the consent of the doctor, especially for babies younger than three months.

Give the correct dosage according to the baby's weight. Dosage is not calculated by the age.

When in doubt, always consult the doctor or pharmacist.

Always read the label and packaging instructions to avoid mistakes.

Do not give more than five doses in a day.

Do not wake the baby to give medicine. Allow them to rest.


Fever is a healthy sign that the baby's immunity is fighting off infection. Usually, it is alright to let the fever run its course. When it comes to deciding if and when to take the baby to the hospital, trust your instincts. If you feel the baby seems too off, it is always a good idea to seek medical attention right away

Frequently Asked Questions


What Can Reduce a Baby’s Fever?

The ways to reduce a fever in a baby are:
Give medications like Acetaminophen to the child as suggested by the pediatrician.
Use cotton and light dresses for babies. Do not wrap them in sweaters and woolen clothes as it may increase the fever.
Use lukewarm water for bathing the babies.
The essential step is to feed excess fluids, which will prevent dehydration.


What Should Be Avoided When a Baby Has a Fever?

The following things need to be avoided when your baby has a fever:
Do not force-feed the baby.
Do not wrap the baby in tight and heavy clothes.
Do not give medications without the doctor’s concern.


Which Is Considered as High for a Baby’s Fever?

Generally, in babies, the temperature is between 36.5 degrees Celsius to 38 degrees Celsius. In addition, the temperature reading is measured orally, rectally, or in axillary positions. When the temperature rises above 38 degrees Celsius or 100.3 degrees Fahrenheit, it is vital to consult a pediatrician for necessary measures.


What Is the Reason for the Baby’s Head to Turn Hot During Fever?

In babies, all the systems of the body are not fully developed. Likewise, the system for controlling, maintaining, or regulating the body temperature is also underdeveloped. Therefore, when the baby’s temperature rises, it becomes difficult for the body to reduce it. Giving more fluids, cold compress, etc., are some of the measures to help the baby to manage the elevated temperature.


What Causes Sudden Fevers in Babies?

The primary causes of sudden fever in babies are:
Viral or bacterial infections.
Upper respiratory tract infections.


Is It Fine to Use a Fan for Babies With a Fever?

When the baby has a fever, it is crucial to maintain the right room temperature. It is not harmful to use a fan in rooms where the baby is sleeping; however, it is vital that the air does not blow directly over the baby. The fan or air conditioner should be set low and away from babies.


How to Naturally Reduce My Child’s Fever?

Fever in babies can be managed by the following methods:
Maintain proper room temperature.
Feed more fluids to babies to prevent dehydration.
Rest is essential.
Dress them in light clothes.
Lukewarm water bath.
Cold compress to help reduce temperature.


How to Find Out Whether a Fever Is Viral or Bacterial?

In a viral fever, the symptoms are usually cough, sore throat, and runny nose, which resolve soon compared to the bacterial infections. However, the fever caused by bacterial infections may progress fordays and last for two weeks. In addition, the doctor may order blood or urine tests to confirm the diagnosis.


Does Sweating Indicate That the Fever Is Healing?

Yes, sweating that occurs in the process of fever reveals that the fever is reducing. But, it is important to follow the doctor’s advice till the advised date to prevent infection recurrence. In addition, do not follow steps like exercise or others to increase sweating, which may cause complications.


Why Do Fevers Get High at Night?

Fever that mostly occurs due to infections stimulates the inflammatory system. During the day, the body produces cortisol that controls the inflammatory system, and fever is low. While in the night, the inflammatory response is high, and cortisol levels are low; therefore, fever spikes at night.


Does Sleeping Help With Fever?

Sleeping does not cure fever. However, it may aid the body’s immune system function and fight against infections. Taking adequate rest is essential in improving the body’s system to reduce fever. Especially in babies sleeping more may greatly help in resolving fever quickly.


What Does Periodic Fever Syndrome Mean?

The main characteristic feature of periodic fever syndrome is having episodes of fever. It may occur due to genetic mutation or can be familial. The fever does not spread to another person and is accompanied by symptoms like abdominal, chest, and joint pain. The syndrome is not completely curable and requires medication for lifelong.


How Long Does a Baby’s Fever Last?

Generally, fever in babies comes down within three to four days. However, it is vital to seek medical advice when the fever is still high after three days. In addition, provide plenty of fluids, dress babies with light clothes, and give warm luke water baths to ease their symptoms and to reduce the high temperature.
Dr. Vasantha. K. S
Dr. Vasantha. K. S



parents' anxietyrectal temperature
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