How to Raise Your Child without Owning a Thermometer

Jay Berger, M.D., F.A.A.P.

One of a parent’s greatest fears is FEVER!!!  I would like to tell you that “fever is your friend.” Yes, that dreaded temp of 103°F at 3 in the morning is… a good thing.  I know it sounds crazy, but this is what science tells us.  

The one exception to that is fever younger than 2 months of age. Under 2 months of age, the baby’s unvaccinated immune system is still very susceptible to some dangerous infections.  Once the baby is a little older, and has some immunizations under her belt, then we can feel much more comfortable with a febrile (feverish) child.  If your child has a little runny nose, a cough, vomiting or diarrhea, it is very normal to have a fever. 

A fever is defined as 100.4°F or higher, when taken rectally.  Fever is the body’s immune response to an infectious invader.  The body produces a fever so as to make itself an inhospitable host to the virus or bacteria. That 103° F temp at 3 AM is an indication that your child likely has a viral illness, and is doing a great job fighting it off.  

Studies suggest that parents that give their febrile children Acetaminophen (ie, Tylenol) or Ibuprofen (ie, Motrin) around the clock may cause the illness to last a few extra days.  By suppressing the fever, you are suppressing the child’s immune system’s response.  On the other hand, if your child is uncomfortable, then by all means, give the Acetaminophen/Ibuprofen.  We don’t want children to suffer.   

The actual number on the thermometer matters very little. The easiest and best way in my opinion to take a child’s temperature (there is research to back this up) is for the parent to kiss the child’s forehead. If the child feels hot, she has a temperature. That is information enough.  

I like to tell my patients, “Look at her face, not the thermometer.”  If your child has a fever and is happy, playful or content, leave her alone.   If she is uncomfortable, give the medicine.  You don’t need your pediatrician’s permission to give fever medication.  A good time to double check the appropriate dose is at your well child visits.

So, the next time your child has a fever, follow these instructions:

  1. Take a deep breath
  2. Take your own pulse
  3. Kiss your child on the forehead
  4. Look at your child’s face. If she looks good, put her back to sleep and leave her alone!

(And yes, if you are still nervous, you don’t like the way your child looks and the fever is too high for you, you can always call us.)

 FYI- I have 2 children and have never owned a thermometer. They are just fine.