When I was a young child, having fever meant that you were ill, and that the fever in itself was the disease. Now though, we know that the fever merely signals that the body is fighting an infection or an illness. But I didn’t always think this way.
Like all others, I was caught unaware the first time my baby had a fever, and did not know exactly what to do. My first thoughts were to bring him immediately to the emergency room as soon as I sensed that he felt warm, when I should have taken his temperature first, or observed other symptoms.
Causes and signs of fever in babies
Fever in babies comes from a number of reasons, the most common being:
1. The body’s reaction to vaccination
2. A viral infection
3. Being dressed too warmly in thick layers of clothing
A baby nursing a fever may be fussy and may keep waking up from his sleep or even refuse to sleep. He won’t be interested in play, and will likely eat less than usual.
When it comes to babies, of course it is better to err on the side of caution (a.k.a., it’s okay to overreact) than regret not having done something later on. To avoid panicking (like I did) when your baby gets a fever, here are a few things you must keep in mind.
How to manage your baby's fever
1. Use the proper tools.
Merely feeling your baby’s forehead is not a reliable way to take temperatures. The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends the use of a digital rectal thermometer if your baby is aged 0 to 3 months old. (Click here for the different kinds of thermometers.)
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2. Consider your baby’s age.
Just because your baby feels warm to the touch does not mean he has fever. For babies older than 3 months, a temperature above 39.4 °C constitutes a fever. When it is accompanied by other symptoms like severe vomiting or if the fever lasts for 3 to 5 days, bring your child to the hospital.
However, if your baby is less than 3 months old, take him to the doctor immediately even if it’s just a low-grade fever (sinat). “The very young has very minimal symptoms. The only sign of a serious infection may just be a fever,” says Dr. Carmina Arriola-Delos Reyes, a pediatrician and infectious disease specialist.
3. Do not self-medicate.
Especially for younger babies, the use of over-the-counter medication may be prone to errors in dosage, so refrain from doing so. (And remember, just because it worked on your friend’s child does not mean it will work with yours). Babies under six months old are prescribed medicines based on their age and weight, so check with your doctor to avoid over- or under-medication.
4. Keep your baby hydrated.
While monitoring his symptoms, do not neglect giving him water or nursing him to avoid dehydration. Some symptoms of dehydration are fewer wet diapers, a dry mouth, or having no tears when crying.