Facts About Fever in Newborns Every Parent Needs to Know

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The universal method of communication for newborns is crying. They cannot communicate what they feel or express their discomfort through other means. Finding your newborn child crying in the middle of the night, looking flushed and warm when touched, is enough to take all your drowsiness away.

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Fever in Newborns
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How old does your child have to be in order to be considered a newborn? Your child is a newborn (or a neonate) if he or she is less than 28 days old. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the first 28 days are the most crucial and sensitive period for your baby, for this is the stage when the risk of dying is at its highest.
It has been reported that 33% of the 4 million newborn deaths around the world were caused by severe infections. Since fever is a major and the most common sign of infection in newborns, it is crucial for mothers to recognize it immediately. Aside from an infection, there are other reasons why your child can have an elevated body temperature.

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What is a Fever?
It is important to remember that fever itself is not an illness, but a sign of an underlying disease or a health condition. It is a very common sign in children, and one of the most common reasons why parents rush to the hospital to get their baby checked.
What is a Fever?
Your newborn baby has a fever when his or her core body temperature is at 38 °C (100.4 °F) or higher when measured through a rectal thermometer. An elevated body temperature is one of your body’s responses to fight an infection. However, when the temperature gets too high, it can also harm your organs because they have to work double in order to keep the temperature ideal for metabolic purposes (like by increasing your heart rate and respiratory rate).
Unlike adults, babies cannot regulate their body temperature effectively because their thermoregulatory mechanisms are still not fully developed. For this reason, your baby might have an infection but without a fever, or your baby might have a fever that isn’t a result of an infection at all. According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, only 50% of newborns who have an infection present with a fever.
Common Conditions That Cause Fever in Newborns
Infection. Since the immune system of newborns is still immature, they are more at risk of some infectious diseases. The most common diseases that can lead to an acute fever in newborns include viral respiratory infections (like colds and flu), bacterial infections (like ear infections, pneumonia, and urinary tract infection), and viral gastroenteritis (or an infection and inflammation of the digestive tract).

Common Conditions That Cause Fever in Newborns

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Overheating. Newborn babies lose heat faster (through evaporation) than adults because they have a bigger body surface area. However, they can also become overheated when not properly dressed or when clothed with too many layers of clothing.
Dehydration. Your baby cannot feed himself yet. They can only express their hunger through crying. When your newborn baby does not take in enough fluids, his or her body temperature may rise.
How to Measure Your Baby’s Temperature?
You can measure your baby’s temperature using a thermometer. Digital thermometers are generally recommended. The use of glass thermometers is being discouraged because they can expose you and your baby to mercury if the glass holding it breaks. There are several types of thermometers you can choose from.

How to Measure Your Baby’s Temperature?

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1. Oral thermometer. Oral temperature is taken by putting the bulb of the thermometer under the tongue of your baby. Be careful not to put it in your baby’s mouth when he or she is restless.
2. Rectal thermometer. This is the most accurate route that measures your baby’s core body temperature. Before inserting the bulb of your rectal thermometer, coat it first with some lubricant. Make your baby lie on his belly and insert ½ to 1 inch of the thermometer gently into the rectum.
3. Axillary thermometer. This thermometer is being placed under the armpit of your baby in direct contact with the skin. This is one of the most convenient and less invasive routes to get your baby’s temperature. Unfortunately, this is also the least accurate route.
4. Ear thermometer. The use of this thermometer is not recommended for babies who are less than 3 months old. An infrared detector measures the heat released in the inner ear.
5. Forehead thermometer. It measures the infrared radiation from the temporal artery found in your forehead.

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When to Seek Medical Help

Seek medical help immediately if your baby has the following signs:
  • Abnormal cry
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Red dots on the skin

In addition to these signs, parents are generally encouraged to seek medical consultation immediately if your newborn baby’s temperature has reached 38 °C.

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. (n.d.). Fever in a newborn. Retrieved from http://www.chop.edu/conditions-diseases/fever-newborn

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Consolini, D. M. (n.d.). Fever in Infants and Children. Retrieved from http://www.merckmanuals.com/home/children-s-health-issues/symptoms-in-infants-and-children/fever-in-infants-and-children
Jekyll, A. (2012, April 22). Fever in the newborn world. Retrieved from http://learn.pediatrics.ubc.ca/body-systems/neonate/fever-in-the-newborn-period/

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Zupran, J., & Aahman, E. (n.d.). Perinatal mortality for the year 2000: estimates developed by WHO. World Health Organization. 2005. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/maternal_child_adolescent/documents/9241563206/en/

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