There’s nothing worse than the helpless feeling when your little one isn’t feeling well.
Fevers are very common in babies and young toddlers, and they have a tendency to make an appearance in the middle of the night. While the most common cause of a fever in young children is a simple virus or bug, sometimes further care can be needed.
There are a handful of frequent childhood illnesses that we can look to as a possible source of toddlers having fevers during the night time only. Some of these can be treated at home, while others might require a trip to the doctor and prescription medications.
With a baby or young toddler, my first thought is always teething. Teething is a tricky one because even if you can’t see the outline of a tooth underneath the gums, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t teething.
If I suspect that it might be, I personally choose to err on the side of caution and give a dose of ibuprofen.
Ear infection is another common source of fever in young children. While popular thought might suggest the children with earaches will pull on their ears, this isn’t always true.
Ear infections can present a wide variety of symptoms even within the same child, so the symptoms your child with one ear infection might be totally different from the symptoms she had the last time she had an earache. These can cause children more pain at night time, since lying down can cause the fluid to pool in the ear.
Ear infections can also have a tendency to recur, so if your child has had one before it is worth a visit to the doctor to see if it is happening again.
Another common ailment found in babies and toddlers is croup, which often occurs at the same time as a cold. Croup is when your baby’s airway gets irritated and swells up, resulting in a distinctive ‘barking’ cough accompanying the fever.
It is very common in babies and toddlers, especially in the fall and winter. If your baby seems raspy or hoarse and has a cough, croup is a possibility.
When my baby had croup I found it very helpful to look up videos on Youtube that demonstrated the ‘seal bark’ cough that is characteristic of croup, which helped me confirm that was the cause of his fever.
Croup can also have a tendency to be worse at night. My baby was perfectly happy during the day and would even go down to sleep well at night, only to wake an hour later coughing and with a fever.
I’ve heard that this is partly caused by a change in blood flow to the respiratory tract when baby lies down. It can also be aggravated by dry air.
If you suspect croup, first run a hot shower and sit in the bathroom with your child, exposing her to the steam for 10-15 minutes. Then dress her, wrap her in a blanket, and bring her outside to be exposed to the cool night air.
The steam will relax the airways and the cool air will reduce swelling, making her more comfortable until the morning.
How to Treat At Home
A low fever doesn’t always need to be medicated, unless you feel that your child is uncomfortable.
A young baby should be given some type of fever reducing medicine, such as Tylenol or Advil, for even a low fever, but if a toddler is running a low fever you can see if rest and fluids will help.
Of course, if the child is crying in pain, go ahead and offer him something! If your child’s fever is very high, you can even give both acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin, for example), as long as you wait half an hour in between.
Remember, when determining the correct dosage of medication, always go by your child’s weight, and not just his age.
If your child is still very hot and feverish, you can also try a middle of the night bath. With a young or very distressed baby, I’ve even stripped down myself and gotten in the shower with my baby once when I was desperate in the middle of the night.
A 5-10 minute lukewarm bath or shower can help bring your body’s temperature down. Just be sure to end the bath quickly and wrap your child in a warm towel if he begins to shiver, as shivering is the body’s way of bringing temperature back up.
This should get you through the night until you are able to check with your doctor the next morning.
In a young baby, you should call a doctor for a temperature of more than 100.4. For toddlers with high fevers at night only, a fever higher than 103 degrees can be concerning. It is important to note the child’s reaction as well.
A toddler with a high fever who will drink water when offered and be comforted is not as alarming as a lethargic toddler who will not drink, and has no tears when she cries. This is a sign of dehydration and you should seek medical attention.