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What should I do if I think my baby has a fever?

Tips to accurately take your baby’s temperature and help them feel better faster

By Katy Fournier, RN, MPH
August 18, 2017

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It’s understandable to be a little nervous if you think your baby has a fever. I know most parents would rather feel sick themselves than have their little one be under the weather!

As a parent, you know when your baby isn’t acting normal. And that’s an important sign to watch for. If your baby’s eating, sleeping or behavior has noticeably changed, I’d recommend taking their temperature. And if your baby is inconsolable, definitely take it.

How to take your baby’s temperature

  1. A rectal temp is considered the gold standard for accurately knowing an infant’s temperature. If you’re uncomfortable taking your baby’s temperature rectally, you can call a nurse line and ask to be walked through the process over the phone (both your clinic and health plan likely offer this kind of service). It’s also a good idea to ask your pediatrician about how to take a rectal temp the next time you’re there for a visit.
  2. If you take your baby’s temperature by placing the thermometer under her arm, add one degree to the reading. This method is considered less accurate, and your temperature can be more affected by environment, clothing, etc.
  3. Temporal artery thermometers can be a good option for babies 6 months old or older. Stick with the rectal temp for babies 0-6 months.

If you find that your baby does have a fever, here’s a guide of next steps to take based on age:

If your baby is less than 3 months

Call your doctor, or a nurse line, right away. Body temperature fluctuates throughout the day, but a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher, or lower than 97 degrees, is quite serious in a baby this age. It should be evaluated by a doctor.

If your baby’s temp is above normal but not 100.4 and she’s acting ill, that’s still a good reason to call. As a nurse, I’d always rather have you call in than not if you’re concerned. We’re here to help!

If your baby is 3 – 6 months

Notice how your baby is acting. If their temperature is above 102 degrees, call in. The doctor or nurse will want to know if your baby is not eating or sleeping well, or seems less comfortable than normal, and will use this information to decide on next steps.

If your baby is 6 – 24 months

If your baby is drinking plenty of fluids, still sleeping well and continuing to play, there may be no need to treat a low-grade fever (up to 102 degrees). Medication is for comfort, after all. However, call your doctor or nurse if a temperature of 102 degrees or higher lasts longer than a day. They can help walk you through which medicines to use and how much (PDF) if necessary.

You can help your baby feel comfortable at home by keeping them in lightweight clothing and not over-bundling with blankets. Remember, you can always call for advice if you need or want it— your doctor, health plan and nurses like me are here to help!

Many health plans have 24-hour advice lines you can call if baby’s fever hits in the middle of the night, or if you can’t reach your pediatrician. Review your plan information or give member services a call to find out more. You can also visit an urgent care if you’d like your baby to be seen. Parenting can be stressful, so don’t hesitate to reach out for support. We all want what is best for your baby’s care.

Whether over the phone or in person, you and your doctor or nurse will come up with a plan to help your baby feel better—so you can feel better, too.

About Katy Fournier, RN, MPH

Katy Fournier has been in Maternal-Child nursing for most of her career since she started it in 2000. And before she started working for HealthPartners, she was one of our patients. After earning her nursing degree from Valparaiso University and Masters of Public Health at Indiana University, Katy and her family moved to Minnesota. She instantly admired HealthPartners’ commitment to connected care and online access and decided she wanted to work there. These days she’s a supervisor at the HealthPartners CareLine nurse triage line. She has three children and is a proud Minnesota hockey mom. She continues to love supporting new moms, especially now that she doesn’t have to change diapers at home herself.

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