Fevers in Children…When to Treat

Dear Dr.Mom

My 13 month old daughter has a fever, should I give her a fever reducer? I’ve been hearing so many conflicting opinions. What should I do?


Fever is one of those things in our children that triggers a natural response from us as mothers…we want to treat it. Even I have been tempted to reach in the medicine cabinet at the first sign of fever. It’s the caregiver and nurturer in us that propels us to help our children, and fever, in our minds, is often equated with something bad.

So, I think the first step here in approaching our response to fevers in our children is to understand why our children get them. A fever is a physiological response to an infection, whether it is viral or bacterial related. The fever itself is not an illness and does not harm your child. In fact, fevers actually turn on the body’s immune system to help it do its job in fighting the infection.

So really…fever is good. Hard to believe I know, but it’s true.

Keeping that in mind, I remind parents to not worry so much about the number on the thermometer. Look at your child. Does she look uncomfortable? Is she cranky, irritable, or refusing to drink? If the answer is yes, then by all means give your child the proper dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Oftentimes, a child who starts looking wiped out or droopy will suddenly perk up once the fever is brought down.

Furthermore, each child responds differently to fever. Some will remain unfazed in the face of fever. I know for my own children, once that fever really starts climbing, they start feeling and showing it. The important thing to keep in mind is to treat the child, not the fever.

Remember that the goal of treatment is not to normalize her temperature, the goal is to make her feel better. The fever itself is likely to return once the medication wears off and this is expected since your daughter is likely fighting off an infection. Do not be alarmed, just remember to look at how your child is feeling.

Be sure to offer her plenty of liquids throughout the day to avoid dehydration. Keep your home at a cool temperature and dress her in light clothing, and of course, offer her plenty of cuddles and kisses.

So, when do you need to become concerned about your child’s fever?

  • A fever that persists for longer than 3 days may warrant a trip to her doctor to evaluate her source of infection.
  • Any infant less than 4 months old with a fever (100.4 or higher) should be seen by her doctor.
  • Any child who refuses to eat, drink, has trouble breathing, or appears very sick to you. Follow your instincts, if your child just doesn’t seem “right”, have her evaluated by her doctor.

Does this help allay your fear of fevers? Have you been tempted to reach for the medicine at the first sign of a fever? What questions about fevers do you have?

*Every Wednesday I will be answering a question from You! Please submit your parenting or health related question to mommamd4two(at)aol(dot)com. I’m looking forward to hearing from you and featuring your question. *

Also, I’m over at Our Mommyhood today talking about a very itch provoking subject…Lice. What would you do if your child came home with these tiny little pests attached to his head? Come on over and check out my plan of attack, and I’m sorry if I made you itch.
17 Responses to Fevers in Children…When to Treat
  1. Laura@OutnumberedMom
    March 16, 2011 | 6:39 am

    "Treat the child, not the fever." I like that. Easy to remember, and great advice!

  2. Jamie
    March 16, 2011 | 6:40 am

    When my oldest was four she was sick every single time we turned around. I was starting to wonder if something was wrong with her immune system. In talking to her pedi. he suggested I stop treating fevers under 102 and let her body do it's job and that's what I did. Dd was much healthier after that and it's pretty much how I treat my two little ones now and I feel as though they're sick less often than their peers. I'm glad that this movement is getting some press now. Yay for healthier kids!

  3. Melissa (Confessions of a Dr. Mom)
    March 16, 2011 | 8:08 am

    @Jamie: Great point about the fever actually being productive and allowing the body to do its job. This is so true and children often get over illnesses quicker if the fever is allowed to run its course. Of course…making your child comfortable is important too. :)

  4. Cheryl D.
    March 16, 2011 | 8:32 am

    I tend to give my daughter meds when she runs a fever, even though I know a fever is beneficial! Ironically, I was sick last week and started running a fever. It was a couple of hours before I got to sleep, so I decided to hold off on the Tylenol until then. By the time it was bedtime, my fever went away on its own. I was also feeling much better. The next day, I was feel tons better. I think letting the fever run its course really helped!

  5. Galit Breen
    March 16, 2011 | 12:57 pm

    My husband *always* insists on this. Hmm- I suppose I have to tell him he's right here now, don't I? Thanks for the good info, as always!

  6. Liz
    March 16, 2011 | 12:58 pm

    I always tell myself that fevers are good. For me, it's been the difference in kiddo personalities. Kate was always sooo irritate be even a low grade fever, though Maddie will keep on keepin' on until it reaches a much higher number.

  7. AnnaNova
    March 16, 2011 | 10:45 pm

    i grew up in the family where even slightest fever had to be treated. now that i have my own family, and know what "fever" actually means, i still find it hard not to reach for the med cabinet.
    i have given my son tylenol at night when it wasnt very high, but he couldnt sleep. maybe its not the right thing to do, but i think that in order to heal he needs to rest, so i went for it.

  8. Sorta Southern Single Mom
    March 17, 2011 | 6:21 am

    I so wish someone had told me this in the beginning! I know NOW, but when they were little…not so much! Luckily, neither of my children were prone to fevers. However, because they were so rare, I tended to flip if they did have one!

  9. Lauralee Moss
    March 17, 2011 | 6:22 am

    I have two question I always forget to ask my pediatrician about fevers. :) One, if you give them medicine and the fever leaves, does that mean that it is no longer "doing its job" of fighting infection? Two, do you know why my parents (and they now want to do this as grandparents) always made me and my siblings cover up when we had a fever? They always said we had to stay covered even though we were terribly hot until our 'fever broke.' I believe they were acting under medical advice, but I never do that and have actually been told to take my kids' clothes off to a level of comfort.

    I hope those aren't dumb questions! I was just wondering, I guess!

  10. Lexie Loo & Dylan Too
    March 17, 2011 | 7:17 am

    I don't treat the fever unless it's really high or my child is acting sick. The first time my daughter got sick, her fever was 105.1. I almost died when I saw that number, but her doctor reassured me that it was normal and told me what to watch for.

  11. Yuliya
    March 17, 2011 | 6:54 pm

    Thank you Melissa! I was just hearing scary things about dosage and got freaked out.

  12. Melissa (Confessions of a Dr. Mom)
    March 17, 2011 | 10:26 pm

    @Lauralee: Well, it has been shown that children whose fevers are allowed to run its course do recover more quickly. So in a way, yes, it may prevent the fever from doing its job but we always have to balance that with making the child comfortable.

    Also, it is better to dress the child in light clothing and keep the indoor thermostat down, not vice versa. Not sure where the thought about covering up came from. I suppose b/c oftentimes chills are associated with fever and the child can vacillate from wanting a blanket to wanting their clothes off.

    These are great questions, thank you!

  13. Gail
    March 18, 2011 | 2:19 pm

    This is the best, most sensible way I have ever heard a fever explained. I wish I would have read this after I had one daughter, not two. Treat the child, not the fever…love it!

  14. Lady Jennie
    March 23, 2011 | 6:25 am

    Thanks for the advice. Fevers can be frightening.

  15. Jerald
    April 4, 2011 | 6:34 am

    just linked this article on my facebook account. it’s a very interesting article for all.

    Kids Clothing

  16. Amy
    April 6, 2011 | 3:01 pm

    Thanks Melissa! Very helpful!

  17. […] Children’s acetaminophen and/or ibuprofen: At some point your child may run a high enough fever to make her miserable (usually over 102 F) or have aches/pains associated with the flu or cold. […]