How can I identify a fever?
At 7 months, you know your baby pretty well and will probably be able to tell if something's amiss. If he feels warmer than usual, use a thermometer to measure his temperature. Although you often hear that a normal temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius), the reading for a healthy baby may fall anywhere between 97 and 100.4 degrees F (36 and 38 degrees C), taken rectally.
When should I worry?
Hard as it is to believe, a fever is your baby's friend — it means his body is heating up to fight off an infection. Infants tend to have higher average temperatures than older children, so "fever" in a baby is considered to be any of the following:
• a rectal or forehead temperature above 100.4 degrees F (38 degrees C)
• an ear temperature above 100 degrees F (37.8 degrees C)
• an armpit temperature above 99 degrees F (37.2 degrees C)
Because older children can tell us where it hurts, we tend to worry less about their low-grade fevers. But when your child is 3 to 6 months old, he can't do that, so you should call the doctor if your baby hits or exceeds the temperatures above. At 7 months of age and older, it's okay to wait until the temperature reaches 103 (taken rectally) to call the doctor. Regardless, it's always appropriate to call your baby's doctor if you're worried.
Also call if the fever is accompanied by any of the following: difficulty breathing, appearance of small purple-red spots or large purple blotches on the skin, loss of appetite, inability to swallow, excessive drooling, lethargy, a glossy-eyed or otherwise unusual appearance, or delirious, irritable, or otherwise unusual behavior. In children between 6 months and 5 years of age, fever can also triggerfebrile seizures — a benign though frightening experience. Mention these and any other symptoms to your doctor when you call.
What should I do to bring my baby's fever down?
Try removing layers of clothing, giving him a lukewarm tub or sponge bath, or letting him rest in a cool (not cold) room. Prevent dehydration by breast- or bottle-feeding frequently.
If these steps don't bring relief, call your baby's doctor to see whether medication is in order. If it is, be sure to ask what dosage is appropriate at your baby's age — the safe amount is based on your baby's weight, which changes frequently. Make sure never to give more than the recommended dosage at the appropriate intervals. If high doses are required to keep your baby's fever down, you might want to alternate ibuprofen and acetaminophen (which lets you give medicine more often without risking an overdose). Keep both in your medicine cabinet, just in case. Remind the doctor if your baby is on any other medication, and never give a baby aspirin, which can cause Reye's syndrome in a child with a fever.
More important than the fever itself is how your child feels overall. If he's eating, sleeping, and playing well, then he probably doesn't need treatment or medical attention. When it comes to fever, trust your intuition as much as your thermometer.