What to do when your baby or infant has a fever

Medline Plus had an informative, comprehensive article about dealing with fevers in babies and infants. We thought that you might appreciate seeing what they had to say.

Cheers, Team KFA.

What to do when your baby or infant has a fever

The first fever a baby or infant has is often scary for parents. Most fevers are harmless and are caused by mild infections. Even the simple act of overdressing a child may cause a rise in their temperature. Regardless, you should promptly report any fever in a newborn that is higher than 38°C to the child’s GP. At the end of the day, if you are concerned ring your GP.

What to Expect

Fever is an important part of the body’s defence against infection. Many older infants develop high fevers with even minor illnesses. High temperatures can cause febrile seizures (convulsions) in some children and this can be quite scary for new parents. However, it is good to know that most febrile seizures are over quickly. These seizures do not mean your child has epilepsy, and they are unlikely to cause any lasting harm.

Eating and Drinking

Your child should drink plenty of fluids. The more the better.

  • Plain, unflavoured water is always best – lots of it;
    • Lots of sips of water are more effective than a couple of big drinks;
    • Keep a water bottle close to the child and encourage them to sip it often.
  • DO NOT give your child too much fruit or apple juice;
    • Make sure to dilute these drinks by making them half water and half juice.
  • DO NOT give sports/isotonic drinks as these can affect a child’s electrolyte levels;
  • Ice blocks/ popsicles or jelly are good choices, especially if the child is vomiting;

Children can eat foods when they have a fever. But DO NOT force them to eat.

Children who are ill often tolerate bland foods better. A bland diet includes foods that are soft, not very spicy, and low in fibre. You might try:

  • Breads, plain biscuits, and pastas made with refined white flour; or,
  • Refined hot cereals, such as oatmeal or cream of wheat.

Treating Your Child’s Fever

DO NOT bundle up a child with blankets or extra clothes, even if the child has the chills. This may keep the fever from coming down, or even make it go higher.

  • Try one layer of lightweight clothing and a lightweight cotton blanket for sleep;
  • The room should be comfortable, not too hot or too cool;
  • If the room is hot or stuffy, a ceiling or floor fan may help;
  • Avoid air-conditioned rooms as this can dry the child’s skin out; and,
  • If the child is still in nappies keep them on so that you can check it regularly for a wet nappy. A constantly dry nappy may be an indicator of dehydration.

Panadol and Nurofen may help to lower fevers in children. However, please check with the child’s GP on when and how to use both types of medicine.

  • In children under 3 months of age, call your child’s GP first before giving them medicines;
  • Know how much your child weighs so that you can give the correct dosage;
  • Always follow the instructions on the package; and,
  • DO NOT give aspirin to children unless your child’s GP tells you it is OK.

Never hesitate to call the Poisons Info Hotline on 13 11 26 for advice on any medicines

A fever does not need to come all the way down to normal. Most children will feel better when their temperature drops by even one degree.

A lukewarm bath or sponge bath may help cool a fever.

  • Lukewarm baths work better if the child also gets medicine. Otherwise, the temperature might bounce right back up.
  • DO NOT use cold baths, ice, or alcohol rubs. These often make the situation worse by causing shivering.

When to Call the Doctor

Get in touch with your child’s GP or Healthdirect (1800 022 222) if:

  • Your child does not act alert;
  • They fail to become more comfortable when their fever goes down;
  • Fever symptoms come back after they had gone away;
  • The child does not make tears when crying; and/ or,
  • Your child does not have wet nappies or has not urinated in the past 8 hours.

Also, talk to your child’s GP or go to the hospital if your child:

  • Is younger than age 3 months and has a temperature of 38°C or higher;
  • Is older than age 3 months and has a fever of 39°C or higher;
  • Is under age 2 and has a fever that lasts longer than 48 hours;
  • Has had fevers come and go for up to a week or more, even if they are not very high;
  • Has other symptoms that suggest an illness may need to be treated, such as a sore throat, earache, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting, or a cough;
  • Has a serious medical illness, such as a heart problem, sickle cell anaemia, diabetes, or cystic fibrosis; or,
  • Recently had any immunisations.

Call 000 if your child has a fever and:

  • Is crying and cannot be calmed down;
  • Cannot be awakened easily or at all;
  • Seems confused;
  • Cannot walk;
  • Has difficulty breathing, even after their nose is cleared;
  • Has blue lips, tongue, or nails;
  • Has a very bad headache;
  • Has a stiff neck;
  • Refuses to move an arm or leg;
  • Has a seizure; and/ or,
  • Has a new rash or unexplained bruise.

References

Mick NW. Pediatric fever. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 166.

Nield LS, Kamat D. Fever. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St Geme JW, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 176.