It is 3 o’clock in the morning and your precious 6 month old baby has a fever. What do you do? Do you panic? Do you call the doctor? Do you take the baby to the Emergency Room? Most new parents will experience this situation at some point during the first year of their child’s life and for most parents it is both nerve-wracking and maybe even frightening. No need to fear; below is some helpful information to know about the dreaded fever.

Fever is a natural response the body uses as part of the immune system to fight off colds or infections caused by viruses or bacteria. Fever is not on its own a bad thing. Our bodies have a natural normal temperature range. Children can have temperatures of 99° F and this is in their normal temperature range, meaning it is NOT a fever. Typically a fever is defined as a temperature above 100.4°F in children.

Babies less than 2 months old are a special population when it comes to fevers. Their small bodies may not have any other way of telling you they have an infection that could be serious. Any family with a baby that is less than 60 days old that has a fever should notify their doctor or go straight to the Emergency Room as the baby may need further workup and could require a stay in the hospital. Older children do not need to be rushed to the hospital because of a fever if they are acting normal.

You can check your baby’s temperature by several different methods. Temperature can be taken in the mouth, under the arm, in the ear, or even in the rectum. If you are taking a rectal temperature, you should be careful to not push too forcefully as this can cause damage to the intestines lining. Whichever method you use, make sure your thermometer is made for that method. Some doctors’ offices will even allow you to bring the thermometer to the office during a child’s visit to make sure it is accurate. It is not required that you add any degrees to the temperature that is read out on the thermometer. A temperature of 99°F on a thermometer is equal to a temperature of 99°F, which is not a fever.

“So, my baby has a temperature of 101°F, I have to give him medicine, right?” While this may be common folklore, it is not correct. You do NOT have to treat a fever. If the child or baby is not overly uncomfortable and is still willing to drink for you, it is not necessary to give medicine for the fever alone. However, if the fever is affecting the child, you can give either acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin). Ibuprofen is not recommended for children less than 6 months of age. Current recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest NOT alternating acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Instead, you should use one or the other and keep track of how often you are giving the medicine. Ibuprofen can be given up to every 6-8 hours and acetaminophen up to every 4-6 hours.

Keeping all of this information in mind, you now know what to do when your baby wakes up in the wee hours of the morning with a fever. You will know not to panic and not rush your child to the Emergency Room if they are older than 2 months of age and otherwise healthy.

— Dr. Jessilyn Humble is a pediatrician at Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg