Caring for a sick child can be a frightening experience for a parent, especially if a fever is involved. Don’t panic! Fevers are not all bad. In fact, medical research over the past twenty years has consistently shown them to actually help in fighting infections.
Hippocrates said, “Give me a fever and I can cure the child.” A weak child may be endlessly ‘sick,’ neither very ill nor very well, but with no significant rise in temperature. A more robust child whose temperature soars may look and feel very ill, therefore giving more cause for concern, but is usually ill for a shorter time and recovers more quickly.
A high temperature generally indicates that the body’s defense mechanism is fighting an infection and temperature variations indicate how it is coping. During a fever many of the body’s natural healing processes/all the metabolic functions are speeded up. The heart beats faster, carrying the blood more quickly to all the organs, breathing is quickened, increasing oxygen intake, and sweating increases, helping the body to cool down naturally.
Often, the first symptom that your child is ill is a fever. Fevers can be a helpful and necessary healing stage of an acute illness…something positive, to be encouraged rather than suppressed. Attempts to control a fever with fever-reducing medications are likely to confuse the body’s natural efforts to heal itself and can prolong an infection. Many doctors are now suggesting that a moderate fever be left to ‘run its course.’
The average normal temperature in a healthy human is said to be 98.4°F (37°C), but this can vary quite markedly. Most people, adults and children, can run a fever of up to 104°F (40°C) for several days with no danger. It is normal for healthy infants and children to throw high fevers 103°F (39.5°C) and over with an infection. A temperature of 105°F(40.5°C) is a serious cause for concern, but it is only when it passes above 106°F (41.0°C) that there is a risk to life. Delirium and tantrums in children sometimes accompany high fevers and, although these are distressing, they are not dangerous. A one time convulsion that occurs with a fever is not a cause for concern (although they are unpleasant). It is the rare tendency to repeated convulsions with fevers that needs medical attention.
Take the temperature with a thermometer, tucked under the armpit for 5 minutes, for an accurate reading. It will read about a half degree Fahrenheit lower than that taken under the tongue. A fever strip (for the forehead) is a rough guide only and a hand held on the forehead is next to useless. Babies that feel hot to the touch can have a normal temperature. The newer digital thermometers are much easier for young children and give a quick and accurate reading. (Always keep a spare battery in the house!)
Fevers usually peak towards night-time and drop by the following morning, so that if your baby has a temperature of 104°F (40°C) in the evening it may recur on subsequent evenings. A drop in temperature in the morning does not mean that the fever is past its peak. Don’t worry if it rises and falls several times over several days before finally returning to normal.
In Europe, where I come from, most working adults are allocated a certain amount of annual sick leave (for themselves, and increasingly for their children). In the US, the pace is faster, there is no time to have an accident or get sick. The God of Productivity is breathing down everyone’s neck most of the time. This puts a terrible pressure on parents and their children.
If you are the parent and especially if you are a working parent, you will need to prepare yourselves for the fact that your children will fall ill from time to time, especially after they start nursery or school, and will need looking after, either by you or by someone who cares. It is worthwhile planning ahead for if/when your child is ill, planning strategies for coping. If you aren’t prepared, it is easy to feel harassed and resentful when they do fall ill. The more children you have, the more prepared you will need to be as they can fall ill one after the other instead of conveniently all at once!
look after yourself
Looking after a sick child is draining, especially if your child is very ill and/or demanding. Cancel everything that you can; your child’s health comes first. Sleep when your child sleeps, don’t use her nap time to catch up on the ironing. Now is not the time to worry about whether your house is neat and tidy. Ditch the housework and spend your time off doing something enjoyable, restful or both! Make sure your own cup has something in it so that you can give to your child and still have some left over for yourself.
If you neglect your own needs at this time, it is easier to fall ill once your child is better. Engage the help of neighbors, friends or family to look after your child so that you can rest or get out to recharge your batteries. Make sure you eat well and get some exercise even if it is running up and down the stairs!
Negotiate with your partner so that both of you get some time off, take it in turns to do night duty or split the night into two so that you can both get a good chunk of sleep. If you are a single parent, then ask a friend in so you can take a break, even if it is for half an hour to get out for fresh air or a walk.
Be creative about nursing your sick child and about helping them with their pain. Tuck your child up in bed with you if this is OK with you, as many small children will only sleep if their parent’s body is near when they are poorly.
Keep notes, a health file or notebook in which you jot down the dates of your child’s illnesses and any treatment, as well as the effects. List possible stresses, also. This will help you to map your child’s patterns of illness and help you to take a more active part in their health care. Remind yourself that illness is part of life’s rich tapestry and reassure your child at every stage, however little she is, that this too will pass.
bring back bedrest
The art of bedrest needs resurrecting. Sick children deserve special treatment reassurance if they are frightened, comforting if they are in pain, distracting from an itchy rash, sponging down if they are too hot, a time of nurturing and special healing rituals. Many parents love this time when their children are willing and eager to ‘lean into them.’
Encourage bed rest for a sick child. Make up a bed on the sitting room couch in the daytime so that your child doesn’t feel shut off from family life. Keep excitement levels down and encourage quiet activities such as reading, drawing, playing board games, watching a little television (too much is over-stimulating) and listening to music and stories. Don’t over-stimulate sick children by taking them out or by having a lot of visitors.
Make sure your child get lots of extra sleep (with early nights and daytime naps). Lie down with your child while he or she sleeps, if necessary. Some babies, when sick, will only sleep well if their mother’s body is close to theirs. Use this time to catch up on some sleep or reading. Let your child sleep with you at night if he or she wants to and if you’re happy to.
Small children who develop a fever, especially infants under six months old, must be watched carefully because they are vulnerable to becoming quickly dehydrated. Encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids, preferably water, herb teas or diluted fruit juice (not squash or fizzy drinks, as sugar is a stimulant), either warm or cold as desired. Don’t give acidic drinks (orange or lemon juice) to a child with mumps as they will hurt sore salivary glands. Children who are reluctant to drink will often suck on a wet sponge or flannel, especially if the water is warm, or try an ice cube or frozen fruit juice. If you are breastfeeding a sick baby, continue to nurse as often as your baby asks. The breast is especially comforting at a time like this.
Finally, remember that not all fevers are from infection…small babies can throw a low fever if they become overheated (either in hot weather or an overheated house) and will quickly revert to normal with undressing and/or a tepid sponging down.
homeopathy and fevers
A fever is often the first symptom of a cold, a flu, a sore throat, an earache, a childhood illness or even an episode of teething. Each baby has their own pattern of falling ill and will experience different fever symptoms. One baby will feel hot with a high fever and will kick off the covers, another will be irritable, intolerant of any disturbance and need to be kept warm. One baby will sweat profusely, be thirsty and slightly delirious, and another will be dry and hot and refuse liquids. Each of these babies will need a different homeopathic remedy to help them depending on their emotional state and general symptoms. Prescribe on the whole picture to help your baby fight their infection safely and effectively.
It’s as easy as ABC and P! These are the first remedies to think of if your baby is feverish:
Aconite This fever comes on suddenly, often after a chill (especially from a cold wind). She is fine on going to bed and then wakes around midnight with a high fever. She is hot and sweaty and thirsty, kicks the covers off and then feels cold. Her cheeks alternate between being hot and red or pale and ghostly or one cheek may be hot and red if it is a teething fever. She can also be very restless and distressed, you suspect that she may have a pain somewhere.
Belladonna Fevers calling for Belladonna come on suddenly. Your baby gets so hot she radiates heat. It is a dry heat (without sweating) and can alternate with chills. She may become delirious, her pupils are more dilated than usual and she may grind her teeth (if she has any!) Chamomilla Fevers in teething babies, or those that accompany an earache or sore throat. You will recognise this one easily because your child is very hard to please, she wants to be carried constantly, but even that doesn’t help much, she cries and shouts a lot and may even hit out. There are red, round patches on one or both cheeks. The face can be hot whilst the body is cold. Phosphorus For fevers in babies who do not appear as ill as they should! Their appetite doesn’t change, they play happily in spite of a moderate to high fever. They have a dry, burning fever with a thirst, especially for cold drinks.
Pulsatilla Fever in teething babies or those who are coming down with an infection. Gets easily overheated, kicks the covers off and then gets cold. These babies refuse drinks and are much better for fresh air. They want to be cuddled constantly and feel better for it.
Match one of the pictures above with your child’s symptoms. You may need to consult a first aid book like mine, The Complete Homeopathy Handbook by Miranda Castro, if these descriptions don’t match your child’s collection of symptoms. Having selected a remedy:
Give according to the urgency of the complaint i.e., every 15-30 minutes if in severe pain, less often (every 1-2 hours) if in less pain.
Stop on improvement (this is important, a homeopathic medicine works as a trigger, stimulating the body to heal itself).
Repeat the same remedy if the same symptoms return.
Change the remedy if you have given about 6 doses and had no reaction or if the symptoms change.
A well selected homeopathic remedy will give speedy relief, without side effects. You might want to purchase these remedies for those middle-of-the-night times when the stores are shut. First-aid homeopathic kits are an economical and conventient way to have commonly needed remedies always at hand.
dos & don’ts!
Talk reassuringly to your baby about what is happening. The sound of your voice is comforting to them…and to you! Explain clearly (even to a baby) what is wrong and say how long the illness is likely to go on for.
Be patient! Children who are sick can become more demanding and regress temporarily, sucking things, wetting the bed, and so on sometimes even before the symptoms of the illness (rashes, swollen glands etc.) appear. This will pass once they are on the road to recovery.
Keep your sick baby close to you as many babies want to be carried constantly and sleep better if they are tucked up in bed with their mothers during this time! Remind yourself that it won’t last and you can reestablish a routine once she is well again.
Provide a calm environment for your feverish child. This is not a time to go visiting!
Encourage your baby to drink plenty of fluids, preferably water, herb teas, diluted natural juices, or at least sips of water at frequent intervals. Older babies who are reluctant to drink will often suck on a clean, wet sponge or flannel, especially if the water is warm, or try an ice cube or frozen fruit juice. If you are breastfeeding a sick baby, continue to nurse as often as your baby asks, as this is probably all that will be wanted. The breast is especially comforting when they are unwell.
Sponge your baby down with tepid water if the fever goes above 103°F/104°F (40°C) and your child feels hot and sweaty. Expose and sponge one limb at a time until it feels cool to the touch. Dry it and replace it under the covers before going on to the next limb. This will help the temperature to drop by 1-2°F (up to 1°C) and can be repeated as often as necessary. Sponging the face and forehead alone can also give relief. Or you can immerse a feverish, but not desperately ill child in a bath of tepid (not cold) water from time to time to bring down a fever. In any case, keep a hot, feverish baby cool, and a chilly feverish baby (one who feels cold to the touch and shivers) warm.
Prescribe homeopathic remedies when the fever is one of a number of symptoms, for example, where the patient is clearly suffering from, say earache, teething or a sore throat and a fever. If the first symptom to arise is a fever then wait for a while for other symptoms to surface before prescribing for the whole picture. Contain the fever, again if necessary, by sponging down (see above).
Suppress the fever with Tylenol in an emergency, that is, where the fever rises above 105°F (40.5°c), or if your child is in severe pain from say, teething in the middle of the night, and homeopathic first-aid prescribing isn’t helping. Ring your homeopath or doctor in the morning or during the night if you are anxious.
Watch for signs of dehydration in infants under six months old, and especially in children who are refusing to drink or who are drinking less than usual.
Encourage sick children to eat…especially if they don’t want to. Fasting encourages the body in its process of healing. Give babies who are hungry small, light, nutritious meals such as fruit or vegetable purees, soups and porridge/oatmeal.
seek help from your doctor or homeopathic practitioner if:
Your baby under six months old has a fever.
An older baby has a fever of over 104°F (40°C) that doesn’t respond to sponging and homeopathic treatment within 24 hours.
There is a history of convulsions accompanying fevers in your family. Keep a close eye when your baby has a fever…it is the rapid rise in temperature that can cause a fit.
The baby or older child is also refusing to drink, as dehydration can occur. Signs of dehydration are: limpness, poor muscle tone, sunken eyes and a sunken fontanelle. Small children who develop a fever, especially infants under six months old, must be watched carefully because they are vulnerable to becoming quickly dehydrated.
There is a general lack of reaction (listlessness and limpness) and your baby is distressed, which can mean that a more serious illness (such as pneumonia or meningitis) is developing.
You are worried and need reassurance about your sick baby…contact your doctor or homeopath immediately, it is always better to be on the safe side when it comes to your baby’s health.
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