Trial by Fever

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When your fussy baby feels warmer to the touch than usual, fever—one of the first big tests of parenthood—has arrived.

You knew this day would come eventually, and a quick rectal check of her temperature with the digital thermometer confirms your guess: Your baby has a fever. Don’t panic. Although the presence of fever likely means your child has a respiratory illness, such as a cold, sore throat or other infection, an elevated temperature is her body’s way of eliminating invading germs using the power of heat. Dealing with a fever can be scary, especially if this is your baby’s first one:

  • Base your actions on the temperature reading. If your baby is younger than 3 months and has a temperature of at least 100.4°F or her temperature exceeds 104 more than once, regardless of age, you should call her physician immediately, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

  • Give medicine, if appropriate. If your child is older than 2 months, you can give him acetaminophen or ibuprofen to slow and reverse the fever. Check with your physician about proper dosage first. Medication may not always be necessary for fevers less than 102, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

  • Look for serious symptoms. Are you changing your baby’s diaper less than normal? Reduced wetness may be a sign of dehydration—a concerning complication that warrants immediate medical attention. Other red flags that deserve swift action include crying without tears, a swollen soft spot on the head, trouble breathing, vomiting, diarrhea and seizures.

  • Prioritize comfort. Taking steps to keep your child comfortable will reduce stress for both of you. Don’t bathe her in cool water or bundle her up, both of which are counterproductive. Dress your baby in lightweight clothes and keep the home at a comfortable temperature. Offer plenty of fluids. Most importantly, be a calm, soothing presence. Your attentiveness and affection are what your little one needs most.

Given time, care and help from your physician, if necessary, your baby will beat the fever and return to his normal self—and you’ll be more confident in your ability to handle whatever parenthood challenges come your way.

Stay Alert for Seizures

After checking with the pediatrician, you are about to give your 8-month-old son his first dose of medicine to treat a 101°F fever when, frighteningly, his body stiffens and his eyes roll. What is going on?

The answer is likely a febrile seizure, a type of convulsion triggered by a fever of 100.4˚F or higher, according to the As many as 5 percent of children between 3 months and 6 years of age have at least one febrile seizure, according to the Epilepsy Foundation. These seizures can be scary for parents, but they are rarely harmful, often infrequent and usually don’t occur after age 5. How can you tell if your child is having a febrile seizure? In addition to stiffening and eye rolling, look for interrupted breathing, unresponsiveness, twitching, darkening of the skin and vomiting.

It is rarely possible to prevent a febrile seizure. Instead, be sure you know what to do if one occurs. Lay the child on a soft surface free of potential hazards, loosen clothing and let the seizure play out while you monitor the time. Call 911 for a seizure lasting five minutes or longer. For a shorter seizure, take your child to the emergency room once it concludes, and then follow up with your pediatrician as soon as possible. He or she will want to rule out other potential causes of the episode.

Did You Know?

> A region of the brain called the hypothalamus regulates body temperature.

> Body temperature naturally fluctuates throughout the day. It is usually highest in the afternoon and evening or following physical activity.

> If you had febrile seizures as a child, your baby is more likely to have them.

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