- You can bring down a baby’s fever by giving them acetaminophen, using a cold compress, keeping your baby hydrated, giving them a sponge bath, and dressing your baby in light clothing.
- Besides running a 100.4°F or higher rectal temperature, babies may also show fever symptoms like looking flushed, sweating, and being more thirsty than usual.
- You should see a doctor immediately if your baby has trouble breathing, if your baby’s symptoms are getting worse, if the fever rises over 104°F, or if the fever lasts longer than three days.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
It’s worrying for any parent when your baby spikes a fever. In newborns, any sign of fever is a reason to see the doctor, but for babies over three months, there are many things you can do at home to help bring down a fever.
Here are five ways you can help bring down a baby’s fever and when you should call the doctor.
How to take a baby’s temperature
A rectal thermometer is the most accurate way to measure if your baby has a fever, says Troy Madsen, MD, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Utah.
But keep in mind that a rectal temperature tends to be a little higher than oral temperature. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children under five have a fever if they have a rectal temperature over 100.4°F.
You can take your baby’s rectal temperature by following these steps:
- Make sure your thermometer is clean by using an alcohol wipe or washing it with soap and water.
- Put a dab of petroleum jelly on the end of the thermometer.
- Gently insert the tip of the thermometer into the baby’s anus. If your baby is over six months old, you should insert the thermometer no more than an inch, and for babies under six months, you should only insert it ½ an inch.
- After reading the temperature, clean the thermometer again.
For babies under three months old, you should always stick to rectal temperature, but for babies older than three months, you can use an oral or armpit thermometer if you’d prefer not to check a rectal temperature, Madsen says. For an oral or armpit reading, a temperature over 99°F may be a sign of a fever.
Symptoms of fever in babies
“Babies’ fever symptoms may not always be obvious,” Madsen says. You may not have a thermometer, and you may not always be able to feel their temperature from touching their forehead.
However, babies with a fever may show other symptoms, such as:
- Looking flushed
- Sweating more than usual
- Being more thirsty than usual
Fever can also cause behavior changes. “Babies with fever may appear fussy or irritable, or may seem to have very little energy and seem very tired,” Madsen says.
How to treat your baby’s fever
If your baby is under three months old and has a fever, then this is considered a medical emergency and you should get them checked out by a physician immediately.
But if your child is over three months old, here are five ways you can help bring down the ever and make your baby more comfortable.
1. Use acetaminophen (Tylenol). Giving a baby acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help bring down a fever, but you should never give fever medicine to a baby under three months old. It’s best to use children’s Tylenol and follow instructions for dosing based on the baby’s weight.
If your baby has a fever under 102°F, you don’t need to use fever medicine unless the baby is uncomfortable. Crying or shivering may be signs that your baby is feeling discomfort or that the fever is rising.
2. Dress your baby in light clothing. Dressing your baby in lightweight clothing can help a fever because it allows heat to escape through your baby’s skin, bringing down body temperature.
Light clothes can also help prevent your baby from becoming overheated, which can increase sweating and discomfort. Cotton clothing that is loose on the body may be a good breathable option.
3. Make sure your baby is hydrated. “Sick babies can become dehydrated quickly, so focusing on regular fluid intake for babies is important,” Madsen says.
This is because feverish babies can lose fluids through sweating or may not want to breastfeed or take their bottle, Madsen says.
“Regular fluid intake may not bring down the fever but can help the baby to avoid severe dehydration, which can require a trip to the emergency department for IV fluids,” Madsen says.
Babies under six months should only drink breastmilk or formula, but children over six months can also have water, following the amounts laid out here.
4. Apply a cold compress. “Using a cold compress may help a baby with a fever to feel more comfortable and may help a little to bring down the fever as well,” Madsen says.
You can make a cold compress by soaking a washcloth in cool water and pressing it to your baby’s forehead, wrists, or groin.
5. Give your baby a sponge bath. Giving your baby a lukewarm sponge bath can help bring down a fever by cooling their body temperature.
Make sure never to use cold water for a sponge bath, as this can cause shivering, which can actually increase your baby’s body temperature. You can keep up the sponge bath for 20 to 30 minutes, but stop sooner if your baby seems uncomfortable.
When to see a doctor
In some cases, you can’t treat a baby’s fever at home and you will need to see a doctor.
“Any fever in a baby under 3 months of age warrants a call to your doctor and a likely trip to their office or the emergency department,” Madsen says. This is because babies in this age group are at high risk for severe infections.
For babies older than 3 months, look out for certain symptoms that may be a sign of a more serious infection, including:
- Your baby looks or acts very ill.
- Your baby has trouble breathing.
- Your baby’s symptoms are getting worse.
- The fever rises over 104°F.
- A fever with no other symptoms lasts longer than 24 hours.
- Any fever lasts longer than three days.
“When in doubt, call your doctor to discuss your baby’s symptoms and whether an office visit or ER visit is needed,” Madsen says.
If your baby is under three months, you should always get medical attention for a fever. For older babies, you can use medicine, give them fluids, and help cool their body down to treat a fever — but you should keep your eye out for more serious symptoms.
“Never hesitate to reach out to your doctor if you’re at all concerned about a possible fever in your baby or any other health concerns,” says Madsen.