It’s extremely rare for a fever to do any harm. In fact, it can be a good thing. “Fever generally is not bad because it helps the body fight off infection,” Mahle says. If your baby feels hot, first check to see that he isn’t overbundled. If he isn’t and you suspect he is running a fever, take his temperature. For an infant under 2 months of age, any rectal temperature over 100°F warrants a call to the pediatrician. In older babies, a fever of 103°F or higher deserves a call, according to Marc Wager, M.D., a pediatrician in New Rochelle, N.Y. Also call the pediatrician if your baby is fussy and crying inconsolably, or is sluggish and just not himself.
To help keep your baby comfortable, ask your doctor about giving him a pain reliever such as acetaminophen or, for babies older than 6 months, ibuprofen. You also can place tepid washcloths on your baby’s forehead and body to help cool him.
Some parents also worry about seizures caused by fever, but less than 2 percent of children experience them. While frightening to witness, febrile seizures are completely benign, with no lasting effects.
The yellowish skin color of jaundice is caused by an excess of a chemical called bilirubin in the baby’s blood. Bilirubin is normally processed by the liver, but immature livers of newborn babies can fall behind on this task.
Approximately 15 to 20 percent of babies develop jaundice by their third day. In most cases, it disappears within about a week. When needed, treatment usually involves placing the baby under an ultraviolet light (available for home use).
Respiratory syncytial virus may have all the symptoms of a cold in the beginning, but it can progress to a much more serious illness: a lung infection characterized by rapid breathing and wheezing, and sometimes coughing and choking. It’s especially hard on premature babies, infants under 4 months of age, and those who have asthma or a lung disease. “RSV can be very serious,” Mahle says. “If your infant develops wheezing or you see him working harder to breathe, consult your pediatrician at once.”
Since it is a virus, RSV does not respond to antibiotics. Instead, a baby with RSV will be treated with anti-wheezing drugs delivered either through an inhaler or intravenously. In some cases, a baby with RSV will need to be hospitalized.