Should you be worried when baby runs a fever? Do you need to give baby medicine? Here's everything you need to know about baby fever—plus natural remedies.

Baby Fever: When to Give Medicine (and When Not to) & Some Safe Natural Remedies

Nothing can strike fear in a new mom like her child having a raging fever. We just feel so helpless and not sure why it’s happening. Is it teething? A virus, RSV? Or is the baby fever a sign of something else?

But it’s important to remember that immune systems are amazing at fighting off infection, and fevers are a healthy response to an invader. Whether due to a viral or bacterial infection, the rise in temperature can actually kill the bad guys off. (That’s also why sauna therapy is so powerful).

So fevers are generally not something to worry about… in fact, many medical associations have changed their tune about rushing to give a child Tylenol or other fever reducers. But, just like with everything, there are times when a baby fever is serious and needs medical attention.

So let’s unpack when you can baby’s fever run its course and when medicine may be necessary.

What is a normal body temperature?

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that a normal body temperature for babies is between 97 degrees and 100.3 degrees Fahrenheit. So if your child is within this window, he/she is fine.

What is a baby fever?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics if a rectal temperature shows 100.4 degrees F (38 degrees C) or higher, that’s considered a baby fever. (Rectal temperatures, while not fun, are the most accurate.)

Babies under 3 months

Fever in a small baby (less than 12 weeks old) is considered much more serious than it is for an older baby. For a baby under 3 months, any fever at all is too high and should be taken seriously. (But more on this later.)

Babies 3 months or older

Many pediatricians agree that a baby fever of 103.5-104 or higher is cause for concern, regardless of other symptoms. Anything less than that means baby’s behavior is more important in gauging seriousness.

If baby has a fever between 100.4 and 103.5 but is acting otherwise normal (plays and drinks as usual), you don’t need to worry.

If baby is acting sick, sluggish, lethargic or has other out-of-the-norm symptoms, the magic numbers for a serious fever becomes:

  • 101+ for babies 3–6 months old,
  • and 103+ for babies older than 6 months

How to check for a baby fever

Mamas can often tell when a fever is present just by pressing her cheek against baby’s head. You know your baby best, right? Obviously this won’t give you a hard number, but it can help you decide if more assessment is needed. If you sense something is off, or your little one feels warmer than usual, it’s time to reach for the thermometer.

Rectal thermometers are best (I know, really?)

For the most accurate assessment of body temperature, a mercury-free, rectal thermometer (where to buy) is the way to go. (Not the funnest thing for you and especially baby!) But, a rectal thermometer is best for babies 3 months or younger who aren’t moving around much yet. Add some coconut oil for lubricant, and insert into rectum a half inch, just enough to get the metal bulb in. When the thermometer beeps, pull it out and read the temperature.

How to use an oral thermometer (not how you’d think)

If you don’t have a rectal thermometer or baby is too wiggly to try it, you can use a mercury-free, oral thermometer (where to buy) under the armpit.

Place the thermometer under baby’s armpit and hold his arm against his body gently to get the best reading.

Since this method is not as accurate, you have to add 1 degree to the total temperature and may need to err on the side of caution in interpreting the reading.

How about forehead, temple, or ear thermometers?

Of course, these types of thermometers are much easier to use and some moms swear by them. In my experience, however, they can be wildly off—by several degrees—and many doctors don’t recommend them for that very reason.

For example, I’ve tested my ear thermometer (because I want an easy option too!), and one ear read 98 degrees and the other ear read 101?! I still use mine though with my kids because I’m not a stickler about numbers. Instead, I use it to alert me if a fever is probable and then focus on their behavior instead.

My baby has a fever—now what?

Call the doctor immediately if your baby is 12 weeks old or younger and has a temperature of 100.4 F (38 C) or higher. Young babies are at much higher risk of serious infection and should be evaluated right away if they have a fever.

If baby is 3 months or older, has a fever of 100.4 to 103 F, and is drinking fluids and playing normally, you probably don’t need to worry. If the fever persists for 24 hours, gets worse, or baby isn’t getting better, call the doctor. Usually a fever over 103.5 F is reason alone to call the doctor.

Fever symptoms to look out for

If baby is not acting like her normal self, you’ll want to contact your doctor immediately. Some signs to look for include:

  • A pale complexion
  • Lethargic or extra sleepy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bad cough
  • Pulling at ears or other signs of an earache
  • Unusual fussiness
  • Neck pain
  • Vomiting, diarrhea or other symptoms of flu

Remember: Babies 3 months and older with a temperature of 101 or higher, or babies 3–6 months with a temperature of 103 or higher require a call to the doctor.

Can baby fever cause brain damage?

Nope. Despite what great aunt Gertrude says, fever doesn’t cause harm in and of itself. As we mentioned, fever is actually a sign that the body is doing its job fighting the infection.

According to Seattle Children’s Hospital, only a body temperature of more than 108 degrees F can cause brain damage, which doesn’t happen with illness. Fevers caused by infection rarely go above 105 F.

Even febrile seizures, which some children get from fevers, won’t cause any permanent harm (although they certainly aren’t pleasant!)

Safe home remedies to comfort baby

If baby’s fever is within a safe range, you can use natural remedies to make her comfortable and support her body’s ability to fight off the bug. If you’re unsure in any way though, consult your doctor.

  • Nurse or liquids – Breastmilk (or formula) helps keep baby hydrated with fluids and electrolytes. If child is over 6 months, bone broth or this electrolyte drink is critical to keep baby from dehydrating. Children lose water faster than adults through fever.
  • Homeopathy – If you have a trusted homeopathist that can assist you, homeopathic remedies can help. I’ve used Belladonna 30K on Paloma’s high fevers with success. Bryonia Alba is a good remedy for milder fevers with body aches. Check out this great resource for the right homeopathic remedy for your child and always check in with your pediatrician when using these medications.
  • Luke warm baths – Get baby or child into a lukewarm bath for 20 minutes, every hour or two until fever breaks. You can add a 1/2 cup of Epsom salts or magnesium chloride flakes to bath water for added benefit.
  • Bundle child up – Once you take child out of bath, bundle them up with clothes and blankets so he/she can regulate his/her temperature.
  • Apple cider vinegar (ACV) compress – ACV is used in folk medicine as a baby-fever reducer. Soak a washcloth in diluted ACV and apply to the forehead or feet. You can also add a 1/2 cup of it to a warm bath.
  • Lemon socks – Some moms swear by these! Take the juice of 1-2 lemons. Put into pan and add a few cups of water. Bring to a boil. Carefully dunk a pair of ankle length cotton socks into hot lemon water. Let slightly cool then put on child. Add a pair of longer socks on top of the wet lemon ones to keep child warm. Let them wear for 15-20 minutes.
  • Healthy, nourishing foods – If baby is old enough for solids, offer easy-to-digest foods that are high in nutrition. Some ideas are pastured egg yolk with liver, fresh or frozen fruit, and homemade gummies.
  • Snuggles and cuddling – Oxytocin, the feel-good hormone, is released when baby is loved on by mom and dad. Snuggles make everything better!
  • Rest and sleep – There may be nothing better than getting rest and napping when we feel yucky. The same is true for baby. Keep him close so you can monitor him if you’re concerned.

Note: Never use rubbing alcohol to reduce a fever. It can become toxic when absorbed through the skin.

When a baby fever isn’t really a fever

Our body temperature fluctuates throughout the day and night. It tends to be higher in the afternoon or early evening, and lowest in the early morning. For a baby, anything between 97 and 100.4 degrees F is considered a normal variation of body temperature. It may also be as simple as this: is baby overdressed or in an overly warm room? Be on the lookout for other reasons why baby could feel warm.

Bacterial fever vs. viral fever

Believe it or not, treatment relies on knowing whether baby’s fever is viral or bacterial. Typically, fevers occur due to viral infection, such as the flu or common cold. These kinds of fevers tend to subside after 2–3 days. Keep in mind that antibiotics have no effect on viral infections and should be avoided if you’re dealing with a virus.

Bacterial infections, on the other hand, can be more serious. Fever may occur due to a bacterial infection such as a urinary tract infection (UTI), meningitis, bacterial pneumonia, or strep throat. If baby’s fever lasts longer than 3 days or you suspect a bacterial infection, consult your doctor.

Baby fever: When to give medicine

Why reduce a moderate fever if baby is feeling and acting normally? The only reason to treat a baby fever (as long as it’s within the safe ranges explained above) is if baby is uncomfortable. As they say “treat the patient, not the fever.”

So if baby is playing and drinking normally, medication may be unnecessary. But if baby is very fussy and not acting herself, medication can help her feel well enough to rest or get some food or fluid, which is the best way to start feeling better.

A few reminders for baby fever:

  • Consult your doctor about whether OTC medications are OK for your baby.
  • Ibuprofen isn’t recommended for babies under 6 months old, or babies who are vomiting persistently or are dehydrated.
  • Aspirin should never be given to young children.
  • Don’t give medicine more often than recommended or more often than necessary. Don’t wake baby to give medication, because sleep is more important. Often times, one dose gives baby enough relief to sleep well and start to recuperate.
  • Doctors don’t recommend giving OTC cough and cold medicine or aspirin to babies. Stick with ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

When to call the doctor for baby fever

Call the doctor if you’re unsure about any of baby’s symptoms. Definitely call if you notice any of the following:

  • Baby is pale or flushed
  • Baby has fewer wet diapers
  • Any kind of rash
  • Baby has difficulty breathing, even after clearing her nose with a bulb syringe
  • Baby seems sick and her temperature is lower than 97 degrees F. Some small babies get a low temperature when ill
  • Baby is less than 3 months old with a fever of 100.4 or higher, or 3 months or older with a fever of 104 degrees F (or higher)
  • Baby is acting sick and has a fever of 101 or higher for babies 3–6 months old, and 103 or higher for babies older than 6 months

Keep in mind that calling the doctor doesn’t mean you’ll have to bring baby in or that you’ll even have to give medications like fever-reducers or antibiotics. It’s just a chance for you to hear doctor’s advice and decide what you want to do. You can still monitor baby at home if the doctor doesn’t seem concerned.

How about you?

Has your baby ever had a fever? How did you handle? Please share any natural remedies that worked for you!

References

  • https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/pages/AAP-Issues-Advice-on-Managing-Fevers-in-Children.aspx
  1. Very good reassuring information. Now I can get some sleep!
    Knowledge is powerful and you shared a lot of it!

  2. Hi i m homeopath.i have 3 and half year old girl child.from her birth whenever she has feverish,i always give her homeopathic medicine.and improved very good,i gave her paracetamol syrup with homeopathic medicine when her fever rise above 103 f..realy this is the fact that never subside the fever if ur baby have no any other complain and baby is active and playing good with fever .and during fever always increase liquid like lemon juice,water etc.and during fever if baby has no shibering than never covering them extra clothes,warm clothes or tight clothes.losse and cotton clothes give better response in Fever.

  3. Just experienced a febrile seizure with my 17 month old daughter. Scariest moment of my life. Fever came on so suddenly overnight that we didn’t have a chance to reduce it naturally. I honestly will probably use Tylenol and motrin in the future. It is safe and effective. You can’t always discount modern medicine.

  4. There are some good suggestions in this article.

    However, I’m completely shocked that Epsom salt was suggested. Please don’t put Epsom salt in your baby’s bath. That is a dangerous suggestion. This article suggests 1/2 cup of Epsom salt in a warm bath. There is no directions how much water to mix it with. And no warnings. Epsom salt is magnesium, and that effects muscles like the heart. It can relax muscles, and decreases blood pressure and can cause other issues with the circulatory system depending on dose and person’s body.

    By experience I used to use it. Once It made me so weak that I almost lost consciousness and almost could not climb out of the tub and call for help. It is especially contraindication in individuals with heart issues as well. Magnesium is absorbed into the body through the bath.

    Please be careful.

  5. Hi.
    My Baby Is 9 months and it has only head fever when i check arempet temp it become from 36- 38. but it looks like he is normal and playing but when u teach he is head it is over heat i am worry too much. Thanks

  6. Thank you so much! So much love in this ! Blessings to you ❤️❤️❤️

  7. Your tips are valuable and thanks for sharing it online.

  8. I came down with a cold a few days ago. My symptoms started in the middle of the night with a dry throat that I could not cure. I live in a cold area and have the heat set to 73. I purchased a humidifier and medicine the next day on which I developed a fever and cough. The third day, I had a headache, continued coughing, and a slight runny nose. I washed my hands a lot and wiped everything with bleach. Well, that didn’t work. In the middle of the night, my little one was up. I checked his temperature and it was 100.5. I gave him pedialite and placed a cool rag on his forehead. The only thing that was off about him was the fact that he was up and moaning constantly. It wasn’t like a painful moan, so I wasn’t sure about it. He would not go back to sleep. Every hour I checked on him and took his temperature. It ranged between 100.5 and 101. He’s 7 months old. Throughout the day, he ate and drank the usual amount. We napped a lot more than usual. But his constant moaning while he was awake made me realize that he was uncomfortable when it was accompanied by some crying. At 2pm, his fever was back at 100.5. With all this in mind, I finally decided to give him a dose of little remedies. An hour later, after another nap, his fever broke and has been around 99 since. He played a little before bedtime and fell asleep in my arms before I usually lay him down. He definitely wanted to be closer to me and be held by me more often than normal. As a first time mom and this being the first time he became ill, I think being sick before he caught it prepared me for how to handle the situation. Especially with all the online help I found with the temperature and symptoms to look out for. As well as my mother’s routine with me when I was little and sick. A mother’s intuition is an extremely powerful thing. If you doubt, there’s reason. Thank you for your research and dedication, and thank you for allowing me to comment.

  9. I’m just curious, what source do you have for bundling baby up after a bath? Every doctor I have spoken to so far says ABSOLUTELY DO NOT bundle a ferverish baby because they are unable to regulate their own body temperature and it can cause the fever to rise.

  10. My brother gave me a digital thermometer a few years ago at Christmas, mainly for meats or casseroles. But when I mentioned I never know when my bread to done, he told me to take its temperature. He suggested 195 to 200 degrees. I’ve not had an over-baked or under-baked loaf or dinner roll since!

  11. My friends Mom puts lemon juice on babies, and children to help bring down the fever slightly. I took my babies clothes off and lightly rubbed lemon juice on her and it did work for a little bit. Gave my poor baby some relief.

  12. Nothing scares me more than my babies being sick. Love the natural remedies. I’ve also read that when baby is sick you should try skin on skin, apparently moms temp can help to regulate and bring baby’s temp down. Not sure it works but I always do it.

  13. Hi!

    What about for babies 1 year+? We specifically bought a rectal thermometer while I was pregnant, but have never had to use it (knock on wood!) and my son will be 1 in a few weeks. Is this still necessary for a baby of this age or could we return it and use a regular thermometer/method at this point?

    Thanks!

  14. Thanks so much for this article; I just wish I had it was available two weeks earlier! My poor baby had a fever, was sluggish, and wouldn’t nurse. She was so hot, it actually hurt for me to hold her. She was like a little furnace! Luckily, her fever broke a day or two later. Just so you know, we used a TempTraq thermometer while she was sick. It is a patch that you stick on your child’s armpit, and then you use an app on your phone to read the temp. It was just awful! I would not recommend it to anyone.

    Blessings!

    • You do not recommend the TempTraq?

  15. My daughter (now 18 months) had her first major fever back in August. We were actually visiting my parents in Florida when she suddenly stopped acting like herself and simply laid down on the couch. She was burning up (I perhaps thought maybe too much sun and sea?), but she didn’t want to nurse and it’s then that we saw she had 4 molars coming in! My poor baby didn’t want to eat, drink, nurse, nothing, we also didn’t have a thermometer, so just to be on the safe side my dad drove us to the emergency room. By then she was acting more herself and cheered up all the elderly patients in the waiting room (no lie, we were the youngest two people there). By the time they saw her it was just 101 F and she also had an ear infection. So, she got antibiotics, and some Tylenol. The next day she was back to running a muck on the beaches of Palm Coast, and of course wanted her booby milk back.


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About the Author

Genevieve Howland is a childbirth educator and breastfeeding advocate. She is the bestselling author of The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth and creator of the Mama Natural Birth Course. A mother of three, graduate of the University of Colorado, and YouTuber with over 75,000,000 views, she helps mothers and moms-to-be lead healthier and more natural lives.

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