Your baby has a fever if his temperature is over 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit on an oral thermometer or over 99.6 F on a rectal one. In general, don't give a baby a fever reducer without checking with the pediatrician. Assuming you've gotten the OK, there are some basic considerations for deciding whether to give your baby a fever-reducing medication. Treat a temperature of 100.4 F or higher in a baby 3 months old or younger as a medical emergency.
A fever indicates your baby's immune system is fighting an infection. In this respect, a fever is normal and healthy. A low-grade fever up to 100.2 F typically requires no treatment in a baby over 3 months old, the American Academy of Family Physicians advises. Even marginally higher fevers in children over 6 months of age do not require treatment. However, you may want to give your baby a fever reducer if the low-grade fever is obviously making him uncomfortable or interfering with a sleep schedule. In general, how sick your baby seems is a more important consideration than the actual number on the thermometer.
In a baby 3 to 6 months of age, a fever of 101 F and up is considered high, and in a baby over 6 months, a fever of 102 F and up is considered high. Even if your baby doesn't otherwise seem ill, consult your pediatrician about high fevers. These temperatures usually cause discomfort and should generally be brought down with a fever-reducing medication. Children's acetaminophen or ibuprofen are appropriate, but aspirin is not. Follow your pediatrician's instructions, as well as all product directions and warnings. Determine the appropriate dose by your baby's weight, not his age. Never give your baby more than five doses of a fever reducer in a 24-hour period, and do not administer the doses more frequently than the package specifies.
A fever is not an illness, it's a symptom. While fever reducers lower your baby's temperature, they do nothing to treat the illness causing the immune system to produce a fever. Medications generally last a few hours, while illnesses typically take a few days or more to clear up. Your baby's fever will undoubtedly return, and you can treat the fever with additional dosing provided enough time has elapsed since the last dose and you have not given more than the day's maximum number of doses. Consult your pediatrician about even low-grade fevers that persist for a few days, that continue to rise or that you cannot bring down.
Alternatives and Accompanying Remedies
You can attempt to reduce a baby's low-grade fever with measures other than medication and use these methods in conjunction with a fever reducer for high fevers. Don't dress your baby in more than a diaper. Refrain from bundling him up if he seems cold; rather, dress him in light cotton pajamas or wrap him in a light blanket made from a breathable material. Keep the house between 70 and 74 F. Rub down your baby with a washcloth soaked in lukewarm water, or give him a lukewarm bath. Never use cold water, iced-down water or rubbing alcohol. These bring a baby's temperature down too quickly, and skin absorbs rubbing alcohol. Cold fluids, ice pops or frozen fruit juice can help and are a good idea to help prevent dehydration.