What is a newborn fever?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the normal body temperature of a healthy infant is between 97-100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or 36-38 degrees Celsius. You’ll know that your baby has a fever if his or her body temperature rises above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or more.
Similar to an adult’s body temperature, the temperature in babies have the tendency to slightly rise for various reasons such as a warm bath, physical exertion, or being overdressed making their body warm. The time of the day also has an impact on body temperature, which rises in the afternoon and tends to become low in the early morning.
People may have the tendency to confuse heat stroke with fever. Heat stroke occurs when the temperature of the body tends to rise all of a sudden to dangerous levels, which could happen if the baby has been overdressed during a hot and humid weather. Thus, it is important to dress the baby according to weather. During hot days, babies should be dressed in lightweight loose clothing and should never be left in a closed car even for a minute.
Types of Fever
When your baby has a fever, there is always a question as to whether it is caused by a viral or bacterial infection. Viral infections include stomach flu, common colds, or flu. Fever caused by a viral infection is known to subside within a period of three days without giving antibiotics since these medications do not have an effect on viruses.
Bacterial infections can be ear infections, bacterial meningitis, urinary tract infection, or bacterial pneumonia. These infections occur lesser than viral infections. Moreover, bacterial infections should be immediately treated to avoid developing serious forms of illnesses. Unlike viral infections, antibiotics would be required when it comes to treating bacterial infections. It is important to let your baby's doctor know the following:
- Your baby is younger than 3 months old with a rectal temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
- When your baby is younger than 2 years old and has a fever for more than 24 hours.
- When your child is younger than 2 years old and the fever has lasted for more than three days.
- Regardless of your baby's age, the fever continuously rises above 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
Fever in Infants
Infants who are younger than three months old with a rectal temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher should need immediate medical attention.
Let the baby’s doctor know about your child's fever. If you are unable to reach the doctor, then take the baby to the emergency room. In such instances, do not give any fever reducers to your baby without a doctor's advice. There are two medical conditions when fever becomes an emergency:
The first one is the protective layer of cells, which is present in between the bloodstream and the central nervous system. This protective layer in young babies is quite thin. In short, it would mean that if there is an occurrence of a bacterial infection, then bacteria can cross over and cause rapid internal damage. Infants or young babies do not show any symptoms of severe infections, unlike older babies. An infant can develop a full-fledged sepsis or blood infection and still not show any typical symptoms.
When the fever is caused by a viral infection, then there is no need to worry about sepsis. However, it can be quite difficult to distinguish if your child's fever is caused by a viral or bacterial infection only through a physical examination. If your child has a persistent fever, then he or she would need to have tests such as a complete blood count, urine analysis, stool exam, or an X-ray.
An infant with a persistent fever may also need to undergo a spinal tap to test for meningitis. The condition is uncommon but a very serious form of infection that leads to inflammation of the protective membranes that cover the spinal cord and the brain. Meningitis can be life-threatening if not diagnosed and treated in a timely manner.
A fever can lead to stimulating few of the body's defenses to protect the body against any kind of invading bacteria. This could be a positive step towards fighting off the infection, but fever is also known to make the baby feel uncomfortable. The baby would need more fluids and would start to breathe faster. Fever in infants or small babies is said to be associated with illnesses such as pneumonia, sore throat, meningitis, cold, croup, other viral infections, influenza, ear infections, urinary tract infections, or blood or bowel infections.
When to Call the Doctor
Call the pediatrician if your baby has a fever along with other signs and symptoms such as:
- Persistent diarrhea
- Unusually sleepy
- Looking very ill or weak
Fever Treatment for Newborn Babies
Make sure to take your baby's temperature at regular intervals and take note of it so you can give the doctor accurate information. Below are certain things you can do when your newborn has a fever:
- Hydration - Ensure that the baby is well-hydrated at all times. Continue to breastfeed your baby or give formula milk even though your baby has a fever to avoid instances of dehydration.
- Avoid giving unprescribed medications - Do not attempt to give your baby medications without the doctor's recommendation.
- Check for signs of dehydration - If the baby is not accepting breast milk or formula milk and showing signs of dehydration such as dryness in the mouth, tearless crying, having less than six wet diapers or nappies, sunken eyes, skin dryness, and has a sunken fontanelle, then immediately inform the doctor. An electrolyte solution can be given in between feeds if possible. You can also replace the feedings with an electrolyte solution.
- Fever reducers - The doctor may prescribe acetaminophen or ibuprofen for babies who are less than 6 months old to reduce fever. Do not attempt to increase the dose without the doctor's advice to avoid overdosing. Always use the measuring tool that comes along with the medication to dispense the correct amount of medicine. In certain cases, if the baby is not restless or uncomfortable and is carrying out normal daily routines such as eating or sleeping normally, then it is best to let the fever run its course instead of hurrying with the medicine to let the body naturally fight off the infection.
- Sponge bath - If the baby is running a very high temperature and is quite uncomfortable, you can give him a sponge bath using a wash cloth. Place the baby in a bathtub with one to two inches of lukewarm water in it. With a help of a clean washcloth, spread a layer of water on his arms, trunk, and legs. If you feel that the child gets uncomfortable or has started to shiver, then immediately take him out of the tub to avoid worsening the fever. Avoid putting alcohol in the bathtub to avoid dangerous consequences.
- Keep your baby comfortable - It is important to keep your baby as comfortable as possible. The child should be resting in a cool room with a temperature between 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. A fan would help circulate the air in the room. It is also advisable to lightly dress your child, preferably cotton clothing to lower down his body temperature.
- Let your baby sleep - If the baby is sleeping peacefully, then there is no need to wake him up since sleep is very important to regain his energy. The more babies sleep, the better it would be for them.
Use Medications with Care
Avoid giving any medications to your baby without a doctor's advice, especially when your baby is younger than 3 months old. Aside from giving fever reducers and a sponge bath, you can refer to the following rules when it comes to managing your child's fever and corresponding medications:
- Consult your baby's pediatrician if your child has a fever and is younger than 2 years old.
- For babies who are in between 3-6 months old, they can be given acetaminophen but not ibuprofen. Check the dosing of acetaminophen with the doctor.
- Once the baby is 6 months old and above, then they can be given either acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever.
- Always note that the dosage should not be given based on what is written on the label. The doctor should be the one to give the dose based on your child's weight.
- Aspirin should not be given to babies since it can lead to Reye’s syndrome, which is a rare but serious form of medical condition. It can also turn out to be life-threatening.
Is fever a good thing in babies?
Fever is not something that could injure your child's brain. Even febrile seizures in some children are harmless. Febrile seizures happen when there is a sudden spike in the body temperature of young children. In very rare cases, babies and young children tend to inhale their saliva or vomit during a seizure attack, which can lead to aspiration pneumonia. Remember that fever reducers can help lower down the fever, but it does not in any way prevent the occurrence of febrile seizures.
Fever due to viral or bacterial infections and as a side effect of immunization is usually an immune system's natural response to changes made in the body. If your baby has a fever, rest assured that the baby’s immune system is just doing exactly what it is supposed to do.