Why I Don't Over-Medicate When My Child Has a Fever

Christie Haskell

Your baby wakes up, just lays on you, doesn't feel like playing, and you touch their forehead -- hot. Uh oh, fever!

Are you the kind of mom who plops down and nurses or whips out the vitamin C, or is the first thing on your mind to get those thermometer numbers down with medication or a bath?

If you're focusing on the fever, you're missing the big picture, and that can make it harder for your baby to get better.

A pediatric nurse-practitioner discussed "fever phobia":

One night, I talked to the mother of a toddler with fever and abdominal pain. I was worried about the pain, and hydration; she was more worried about the fever, and no matter what I asked she kept coming back to that.

Finally, I got so worried the child was dehydrated that I told her to go to the emergency room. And when she got there, she told them she was scared because the child had a high fever. 

You get the problem there, right? The kiddo was in pain, and mom is freaking out over numbers on a thermometer. Apparently this kind of attitude is really common in our culture. But we have to remember too that the fever is there because the body is fighting -- there's a virus or bacteria in the baby's body and THAT is the real problem.

You've heard someone say that high fevers can cause brain damage, right? Scary thought, for sure. Fortunately, it's also not true. The body is smart, and fevers are too. Unless you've got a major problem like encephalitis or meningitis (both serious brain problems that warrant a hospital stay), the body isn't going to melt baby's brain. It takes a fever of 107.6 to do brain damage, which really can only happen if your baby is left in a hot car, hot tub, or other outside sources. Good to know, right?

There's a lot of fear that a fast-raising temperature causes febrile seizures too, but fortunately for us again, we can relax, because only 3-5% of babies are predispositioned to them, and the rest will never have one. Doesn't make them any less scary though, even if they are harmless, and they definitely warrant a 911 call.

Obviously, if your baby isn't drinking, won't really interact, or you're just plain worried, your doctor should be your first stop, for sure. But call before giving medication, not after, because you'd be surprised how often they'll tell you to not give medication. When you do and the fever goes down, it can help baby sleep or be more comfortable, but it can make their little body have to work to raise the temperature again because it was too low to effectively fight off the bad guys. And if you do use meds, don't freak if they wear off and the fever spikes -- it's because it had to work harder to fight while medicated, and when the drugs wear off, it's got all the extra forces it mustered plus then suddenly it's working at full capacity again.

Always call if something feels off, but remember too that the fever isn't the reason your baby's sick, so try to see if you can't figure out what is. That mom that called should have been worried about her toddler's tummy pain, not the fever, you know? So even though fevers can be freaky, try to keep in mind that it means your baby's body is trying really hard to fight. Consider asking your doctor if giving vitamins D, C, and zinc or other immune-system boosting aids would be more effective than lowering the fever, and remember the fever isn't the enemy.

Do fevers scare you?


Image via rocknroll_guitar/Flickr


Note: This is general mom advice. Consult your doctor with any questions/concerns.

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