5 things you should know about babies and fevers

By 13SICK, National Home Doctor Service

Fever in a baby or small child is one of the most common reasons parents call 13SICK for an after hours doctor home visit. It’s always distressing for a parent when their little one shows signs of illness, and fever is no exception. Although fever can occasionally be cause for concern, most are harmless and caused by mild infections.

Here are five things you should know if you suspect your baby might be suffering from a fever:

1. What is a fever?

A child’s normal temperature is usually between 36.50C and 37.50C. Any temperature above 37.50C is classified as a fever. Fevers are common in babies and young children because their immune systems are immature (and they like to put their fingers in all sorts of weird and wonderful places!) Raising their internal thermostat is the immune system’s natural defence against an invasion from common nasties like viruses and bacteria. So, although you may be worried about your baby’s fever, bear in mind that it may just be bub’s body putting his or her recovery wheels in motion.

2How to take a temperature

It’s a good idea to get your thermometer our if your baby:

  • Feels hot
  • Is off their food
  • Has a runny nose
  • Is being unusually fussy
  • Looks flush
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Is crying excessively

There is a variety of ways you can check your child’s temperature, but the most common ways are from the mouth or the armpit using a digital or infrared device. Ear thermometers are quick and easy to use, but often on the pricier side. Be sure to follow the instructions as every thermometer is different.

3. How to keep them comfortable

Here are some steps you can take to help reduce your child's temperature and discomfort:

  • Dress your baby in layers so it's easy to remove or add clothing if their temperature is fluctuating (which is common with a fever).
  • Babies are prone to dehydration during fever so it's important to keep their fluids up with breast milk or water.
  • Depending on your baby’s age, you can give them paracetamol or pain relief if you think they need it, but make sure you follow the medication’s instructions and consider his or her weight, as well as age, when working out the right dose. Never give aspirin or medicine containing ibuprofen to babies under six months old.
  • Treat the symptoms, not the temperature. Often babies (and children) can have a fever but feel fine. 
  • Continue to monitor them and make sure they’re comfortable and pain free until the fever has resolved.  

4. When to seek medical help

While you can often provide comfort and relief to your baby while he or she has a mild fever, it is also important to know when to seek medical help. You should see a Doctor if your baby...

  • Has a rash
  • Is not responding to paracetamol
  • Is vomiting or has frequent diarrhoea 
  • Has accompanying pain such as an ear ache or sore throat 
  • Has a fever for more than 24 hours
  • Refuses to drink
  • Is unusually pale, weak or drowsy
  • Is under six months old (it’s always a good idea for young babies to get checked out by a Doctor as their immune systems are especially weak at this age)

Also trust your own instincts. If you become worried about the fever or about any other symptoms associated with the fever, go and see your Doctor. If nothing else, it’ll give you peace of mind.

Most of the children our Doctors see with a fever in the after hours will exhibit one or more of the symptoms listed above. In most cases the cause is a virus, but it’s important that the Doctor examines bub to make sure it isn’t anything more serious.

5. When to go straight to hospital

Taking your baby to the Emergency Department (ED) is daunting for any parent, especially if you have other little ones at home, but you must visit your hospital’s ED immediately if your baby presents any of the following symptoms:

  • Severe vomiting, unable to keep down fluids
  • Difficulty / abnormally-paced breathing
  • Presenting a bulging fontanel (soft spot on front of head)
  • Fitting or convulsing
  • Very stiff or rigid neck
  • Fever (if they are under one month old)

It is a parent’s nature to be concerned when their child is feverish, especially at a young age, but it’s important to remember that a fever rarely spells serious illness. Monitor your child’s symptoms, keep them comfortable and if needed, consult your GP. 

Also worth knowing…

What are febrile convulsions?

A febrile convulsion is a fit or seizure that occurs in small children that’s triggered by a sudden change in body temperature (fever). They happen to one in 30 children between the ages of six months and six years old and, while they can be alarming to witness, they don’t usually last any longer than five minutes and the child is often fine following the episode (besides some minor irritation or sleepiness).

If your child does start to convulse, it’s important to lay them on their side and ensure nothing is in their mouth. Try to time their fits so you can give your Doctor as much information as possible.

If the fit lasts beyond five minutes, or your child has difficulty breathing or is very sick after the fit, call an ambulance or take them to your nearest hospital’s ED immediately.

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Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

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