Fevers in newborns and infants less than 3 months old are a cause of concern. Most fevers are harmless, but they can also be a signal of more serious problems such as infection in the blood, urine, or spinal fluids.
Fevers signal that your baby’s immune system is working to fight off infection or illness. Fevers can also be caused by a reaction to a vaccination or something as simple as being dressed in too much clothing on a hot day or being in a warm room.
Normal temperature ranges
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a normal body temperature for a healthy baby is between 97 and 100.3 degrees Fahrenheit when taken rectally. A rectal temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher indicates a fever.
A person’s “normal” temperature can vary, even throughout the course of a single day. Take your baby’s temperature a few times when he or she is well to learn where your baby falls on the range of normal. There is no need to routinely check your baby’s temperature, even when he or she is very young.
When you should take your baby’s temperature
If your newborn isn’t sleeping or eating well, is sleeping too much, is warm to the touch, is cranky, or has fewer wet diapers, take his or her temperature with a clean, lubricated digital thermometer inserted 1 inch into the rectum and held there for 2 minutes or until an audible beep on the thermometer is heard.
When to seek medical attention
- If your baby is less than 1 month old and has a rectal temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, go to a medical facility or emergency room promptly.
- If your baby is less than 3 months old and has a rectal temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, call your doctor.
- If your baby is between 3-6 months old and has a fever of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, follow your doctor’s advice. Some doctors have a “fever policy” and say that if the baby is taking fluids and appears to play normally, there’s no need to call unless the fever persists for more than 24 hours, is very high, or is accompanied by additional symptoms.
- Each time you visit your pediatrician for a routine exam, ask for the appropriate dose of acetaminophen. As your infant grows quickly, the dose will change every few months.
Treating fevers at home
- Keep the baby hydrated by continuing to breastfeed or bottle feed.
- Dress the baby in loose, lightweight clothing, and do not wrap him or her too tightly in blankets.
- Sponge baths with lukewarm water (barely warm to the back of your wrist) can help lower body temperature, but only use if the baby enjoys them. Upsetting a baby in a tub of cold water only serves to drive the temperature higher.
- Do not use alcohol to sponge the baby because it can be absorbed through the skin and cause harm.
- Do not give aspirin because it has been associated with the development of Reye syndrome, a potentially fatal medical condition.
- Do not give fever-lowering medications such as acetaminophen unless your doctor advises it.
- Fevers in a newborn are always something to be concerned about.
- Temperatures above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit in a baby constitute a fever.
- As always, follow your doctor's guidelines in the treatment of fevers in newborns.