It’s a chilly winter evening and you’re in the kitchen preparing dinner. You realize your little one has been a bit too quiet. You take a peek and he’s lying on the couch a tad more tired than usual. He’s definitely not acting himself so you put your wrist to his forehead. Your little one has spiked a fever and you start to panic. Do you bring him in? Do you wait it out at home? 

Child laying on the couch with a fever

I’ll bet this scenario sounds familiar to most moms. The thing is, if you take the steps to educate and prepare yourself for that inevitable fever, you’ll be far less likely to panic and overreact when it hits. 

Here’s our guide to all the facts a well prepared mom needs to know about fevers.

What exactly is a fever?

A fever is an elevated temperature over what is considered standard. A standard human body temperature is 98.6F. An elevated temperature is typically the result of a viral or bacterial infection. As the body attempts to fight off the attack, body temperature rises. 

Though fevers are scary, they are also a sign that our bodies are working properly to protect us. 

Why do children get fevers?

Since a fever is, essentially, a symptom of a larger issue, there is no simple answer as to why your child might have a fever. Fever is a sign that the body is fighting an infection. You may already be aware of the infection, what it is, and where it came from – but you might not. 

Kids can pick up infections almost anywhere. In the winter, during the school months, and during flu season, it becomes even more likely. Think – stomach bugs and respiratory virus galore.  Unfortunately, kids aren’t as conscious of covering their mouth when they sneeze or cough or even washing their hands.  So it’s very easy for a child to get the “bugs” by being coughed on or by touching a common surface area like door knobs without even realizing it.

According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), it’s also not uncommon for a child to spike a fever after receiving an immunization. This is simply a sign that the immune system is strong and functioning properly. 

Symptoms of a Fever

Since a fever is an elevated body temperature, the very first symptoms or complaints from your little one will likely be chills and body aches. The most common symptoms are changes in appetite, mood, or behavior and activity level. And of course, an elevated body temperature. 

What is the best way to measure if your child has a fever?

There are multiple different ways to measure your child’s temperature and some are more accurate than others. The biggest factor will be your child’s age. This will determine what the best type of thermometer to use will be.  Temperature can be measured rectally, by ear, temporally, orally or axillary (armpit). 

thermometer measuring a child's fever

The Mayo Clinic offers the following thermometer recommendations based on your child’s age.  

  • Birth to 3 months. Use a digital thermometer rectally or temporally.
  • 3 months to 4 years. Use a digital thermometer to take a rectal, axillary or temporal temperature reading. 
  • 4 years and older. Use a digital thermometer to get an oral, axillary, or temporal temperature reading. 

The key is – whatever method you choose, you must remain consistent. Switching thermometer types and comparing different methods each time you take your child’s temperature will only get confusing. To get acquainted with your child’s normal temperature range you’ll need to use the same type of thermometer every time.

At Home Care

Fevers and their accompanying symptoms can be very scary for moms, especially in very young children. Often times, parents choose to treat the fever too soon. If your child can handle the discomfort, give them some extra love and cuddles, but let their little body do what it was designed to do. 

If you would like to take steps to mitigate the fever at home, here’s what I suggest: 

  • You can give your child a common fever reducer like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Be sure to check the dosage instructions based on your child’s age and weight. 
  • Change them into light-weight clothing.
  • Wrap them in a thin blanket
  • Make sure they stay hydrated by providing plenty of fluids. 

When to Head to the Doctor

doctor checks a child's feverIt’s so important to know when to contact your child’s physician or seek medical assistance. 

These are general temperature guidelines for a high fever, by age:

  • Younger than 3 months: 100.4F (38C)
  • 3 month to 3 years: 102.2F (39C)
  • 3 years and older: 104F (40C)

To learn more about fevers and make sure you’re prepared for other common kid emergencies like heat exhaustion, fractures, and constipation – download our free eBook, Mom’s Little Handbook to Common Kid Emergencies

The information presented here is meant only for informational purposes. It is not meant to diagnose, treat or provide health advice. Anything you read here should not substitute assistance from a medical doctor.