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What to do when your baby has a fever in the middle of the night

Fevers are a natural occurrence of the body in response to illness, whether viral or bacterial. Beyond children's fever reducers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, it's sometimes confusing and frustrating to figure out how to respond when your child develops a fever. No parent wants their kids to be sick, so here are some things to consider when you discover your child has a fever in the middle of the night.


Do have a reliable thermometer

The oral thermometer is pretty standard, but many thermometers now are designed for convenience and ease of use. It’s difficult to get a fussy child to keep a thermometer in their mouth for an accurate read, so quick temporal thermometers that work with a swipe across the forehead or auricular thermometers used in the ear may be the better option.

Do consider other symptoms

Has your child been doing fine prior to the fever? Are they still playful? Are they still eating and drinking normally? Are they fussy or complaining of earache, stomach ache, or sore throat? Are they pulling at their ears? Are they crying? These factors are important to consider to determine if this fever will pass or if you should seek further medical attention. If your child appears ill, go to the ER, urgent care, or consult your pediatrician.

Do give an appropriate children’s dose of ibuprofen or acetaminophen

Both fever reducers work well for alleviating fevers; follow the instructions on the bottle, or if child is a very young infant or newborn, consult your pediatrician before giving medications with weight-based dosing.

Do seek medical attention if the fever is greater than 101.1 degrees

If persistent fever develops that doesn’t respond to acetaminophen or ibuprofen, then seek medical attention, as elevated fevers can lead to seizures. If your child is experiencing symptoms like vomiting, headache, sore throat, ear pain, stomach pain, or develops a rash, follow up with a medical professional as soon as possible.


Do not panic

For an isolated fever without any other symptoms, it is okay to employ what is called watchful waiting. Check on your child, and if any changes develop -- abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting -- seek medical attention. It is likely that the fever will resolve, but if there is no change or other symptoms arise, visit your pediatrician or local urgent care.

Do not submerge child in an ice bath

An ice cold bath isn’t necessary to break a fever and can be uncomfortable for the child. Treat symptoms accordingly; if the child is hot, remove layers of clothing. If they complain of chills, a blanket is appropriate. Cool compresses or an ice pack to the head or under each armpit are also reasonable alternatives.

Do not hesitate or feel embarrassed about stopping in for a visit with your doctor

When in doubt or concerned, please bring your child in to be checked out. You may just get reassurance that your child will be fine, but it’s better to know and check then to wait for a bad reaction.

Do not forget about other causes of fever

Fevers can also happen in response to accidental poisonings, so make sure your child has not gotten into any prescription medications or other household chemicals or substances that could cause problems. If so, please contact Poison Control immediately as you make your way to the emergency room.

Jumping cartoon

Fevers don’t necessarily warrant a trip to the doctor, and most typically pass without incident. If your child develops a fever during the night, it’s important to do what you can to make sure the fever isn’t serious. When in doubt and when acetaminophen or ibuprofen do not appear to break the fever, seek out a medical professional.

More expert advice about Children's Health

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Justin C. Young, M.D.Doctor

Justin C. Young, M.D. is a physician from Atlanta, who now lives in Los Angeles. He is a 2002 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill and former Student Body President. He graduated from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., in 2008 and started initi...

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