13 April 2016
Many parents want to suppress their baby’s fever to ease the persistent crying and discomfort, but for children older than six months old, having a fever can be a good thing.
A fever indicates that your child is fighting off some kind of infection, such as a simple cold, the flu or an ear infection, or it could be a sign that your baby’s teething. In fact, research shows that letting a fever run its course may reduce the length and severity of such illnesses as colds and flu.
In most cases, a low fever can actually benefit a sick child
A fever protects your infant against infection and trauma in three major ways:
- A fever stimulates the immune system into producing more white blood cells, antibodies and a protein called interferon, all of which work to protect your baby against harmful microorganisms.
- By raising your baby’s temperature a few degrees, a fever makes it harder for invading bacteria and viruses to survive and flourish. The higher the core body temperature, the harder it is for harmful microorganisms to survive.
- A fever helps to divert iron to the liver so that it is not readily available to fuel the growth of invading bacteria.
4 Reasons to Let a Fever Run Its Course
1. Medicine masks symptoms. When kids are feverish, they usually lie still, eat very little and take frequent naps. (Perhaps our bodies know that digestion requires lots of energy and therefore appetite is suppressed in an effort to conserve resources.) When you treat a fever, the child feels better and becomes more active when actually he/she should rest more and move about less while fighting the virus.
- No medication is without side effects. I worry about the long-term consequences of frequent doses of children’s pain and fever medication. These medications—whether in liquid or chewable form—are full of artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, and preservatives, ingredients that I counsel the parents of my patients to avoid.
- Fever helps the body heal. Evidence shows that fever is beneficial to the healing process, triggering the immune response and preventing viruses and bacteria from replicating. One study showed that flu sufferers who suppressed their fevers with medications were sick for more than three days longer than those who took no medication.
- Fever reducers contribute to the spread of flu. Many well-meaning parents administer medication and then take their less symptomatic but still highly contagious kids out to public places where they can infect others. Researchers estimate that in an average flu season, fever-reducing medications could lead to tens of thousands of extra flu cases, and at least a thousand flu deaths in North America alone.
When a fever should not be ignored
There are times when a fever, sometimes in combination with other symptoms, warrants a trip to your pediatrician. These include:
- A rectal temperature of 100.4 degrees or greater in an infant less than 6 weeks old. Young babies are more at risk for certain serious bacterial infections and fever is an indication of these.
- A fever that lasts more than 5 days.
- High fever accompanied by lethargy—your child is limp and unresponsive, won’t make eye contact, or generally just looks and acts really sick.
- High fever accompanied by any of the symptoms of meningitis: an unusual skin rash, severe headache, aversion to light, confusion, stiff or painful neck.
- Constant, inconsolable crying.
How to take your baby’s temperature
At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we recommend taking your baby’s temperature rectally ONLY. Here’s how:
- The normal range for a temperature taken rectally is 97.9°F-100.4°F
- Using a digital thermometer, lay your baby on his/her back and bring the knees up over the abdomen
- Make sure the thermometer is clean, then dip it in water-soluble jelly
- Insert the thermometer in your baby’s rectum, about 1 inch
- Wait for the thermometer to take the reading (usually indicated by a beep)
- Clean the thermometer after each use with soap and water or rubbing alcohol
If you’re worried that your baby’s fever may be something serious, please come see us
If your baby’s fever is not getting better after a day or two and he/she seems very uncomfortable, this might mean that something else is going on other than teething or a cold. In this case, please come in so that one of our pediatric specialists at Westchester Health Pediatrics can examine your child. We’re here for you and your baby and will do everything we can to help both of you feel better.