Understanding Infant Fever

A guide to why temperatures spike with when and how to take action.

How to recognize symptoms and when to take action.

My son ran high fevers when he was an infant, and although I understood how to care for him as a nurse, the "mom" side of me found it unsettling.

Realizing that it helped to know the rationale of how and why a fever serves as a defense mechanism in the body, I thought I'd share a guide to understanding infant fever, along with when and how to take action if your infant's fever spikes.

Why does a fever occur?

A fever is an indication that your infant's immune system is functioning. Their little body mounts a response to a condition - such as an illness or infection - in an attempt to protect itself. With an infant, their body surface area is so small, and their internal "thermostat" can rise quickly (a fever spike), requiring interventions depending on the symptoms.

What are Infant fever signs and symptoms?

  • Irritability
  • Weakness/disinterest in play
  • Flushed skin tone 
  • Warm-to-the-touch skin
  • Difficulty settling to sleep
  • Difficulty during feedings

Should I contact a healthcare professional if my infant is running a fever?

Here's where I preach my mantra of trusting your mommy gut. Always let it guide you and never feel bad about contacting your pediatrician or healthcare professional. You should feel empowered as the advocate for your infant's health. Here are guidelines of when to seek attention:

  • Younger than age 3 months and has a rectal temperature of 100.4 F or higher.
  • Between ages 3 and 6 months and has a rectal temperature up to 102 F and seems irritable, lethargic or uncomfortable or has a temperature higher than 102 F.
  • Between ages 6 and 24 months and has a rectal temperature higher than 102 F that lasts longer than one day but shows no other symptoms. If your child does have other signs and symptoms, such as a rash, diarrhea, vomiting, or is lethargic, you may want to call sooner. *If your child has an immune issue or pre-existing condition, seek guidance from your pediatrician or healthcare professional sooner.

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What if my infant's fever spikes very high or experiences a complication?

A febrile seizure is a loss of consciousness and shaking of limbs. It is downright terrifying and alarming for parents if it were ever to occur, but the majority of febrile seizures have no lasting effect. That being said, if a febrile seizure occurs, here are protective steps to take:

  1. Lay your child on his or her side or stomach on the floor or ground
  2. Remove any sharp objects that are near your child
  3. Loosen tight clothing
  4. Hold your child to prevent injury
  5. Don't place anything in your child's mouth or try to stop the seizure
  6. Try and note the length of time of the seizure if at all possible. Most seizures stop on his or her own, but you should take your infant to a healthcare provider as soon as possible to be evaluated. If a febrile seizure lasts longer than a few minutes, call for emergency medical assistance (911).

You can bet this mom/nurse spent many sleepless nights when my babies were ill and spiked temperatures. I hope this guide has provided a better understanding of infant fever and serves as a resource to empower us as health advocates for our babies.

Disclosure: This post provides content and discussion related to health, wellness, and related subjects. The words and other content provided in this blog including links should not be considered medical advice and should not be construed as such. Any health/wellness information should not be considered an alternative or replacement for information given to you by a licensed physician. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with a licensed physician.

Linda Scruggs

Linda Scruggs

Linda Scruggs RN, BSN serves as a resource for parents in the digital space, creating helpful health and wellness content. She has specialized for over 12 years in reproductive medicine, and family and women's health as a nurse. A mom of two young children, her work can be seen on her own blog via her site, lindascruggs.com, as a contributor to The Huffington Post, and created the patient education program in one of the top fertility centers in the country. Linda is all about empowerment in motherhood and would love to connect.

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