What medicine can I give my baby with a fever?

Never treat your child’s fever with aspirin – found in products like Disprin or Grandpa powder. It can be dangerous for your little one.


It’s the middle of the night and your baby has been crying inconsolably for the last hour. Concerned you take her temperature and you see she’s running a bit of a fever.  Do you reach for some meds that you used to bring her older’ sibling’s fever down at the back of your medicine cupboard?, bundle her up and let her ‘sweat it out’ like your mom used to do? or  wipe her down with a vinegar-soaked face cloth – you’ve heard from your moms group this works to bring down a fever?

Paediatricians Dr Riana Van Zyl and Professor Andre Venter of the Mother and Child Academic Hospital (MACAH) Foundation have this advice on how you can treat your baby’s fever at home.

Give your baby a sponge bath

A mild fever (between 37.1°C and 38.1°C) isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s the body’s way of fighting off an infection. Instead of reaching for the meds right away, first try give your baby a sponge bath with water that is room-temperature (between 20 – 22°C). Sometimes this will do the trick and bring down the fever. But if you’ve bathed your baby and her fever still continues to go up, Prof Venter says the only medication you should give your baby is paracetamol, which is found in over-the-counter products like Panado or Calpol.

Dr Van Zyl agrees and stresses the importance of never giving a child any form of aspirin (found in products like Disprin or Grandpa powder) as it can cause liver failure.

If you’re ever in doubt about whether a product contains paraceamol or aspirin, ask your pharmacist or your doctor.

ALSO SEE: Should you use ibuprofen to treat your child’s fever during COVID-19?

Take off your baby’s PJs

“There’s absolutely no benefit in getting your little one to sweat it out – even if she has the chills,” says Dr Van Zyl. “In fact, because you’re increasing her body temperature it can make the fever worse. It can also lead to convulsions, which can be very scary for parents and harm your baby in other ways.”

Instead take off her PJs and just leave her in a cotton vest and nappy. Keep her comfortable in a room that’s not too hot or too cold. If the room is a bit stuffy, you can open a window or put on a fan at a low speed.

Giver her lots of fluids to keep her hydrated.

Bath baby in lukewarm water

When you’re struggling to break your baby’s fever, never put her directly into an ice-cold bath, says Dr van Zyl. “Rather put her in a bath tub filled with lukewarm water, and then add some cold water to help bring down the fever,” she says.

Vinegar won’t help

Prof Venter says this new natural remedy (sponging baby down with a vinegar-soaked cloth) used by moms to bring down a fever, won’t help at all. Sponging or wiping your baby down with a face cloth soaked in room temperature water is just fine.”

When sponging down your baby, pay attention to her armpits and groin area. And make sure you thoroughly pat your baby dry afterwards.

ALSO SEE: 7 tissue salt remedies for sick kids

When to worry

Monitor your baby’s temperature every 3 to 4 hours. Call your doctor if the fever lasts for more than 24 to 48 hours, or if you start noticing symptoms like:

  • Drowsiness
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Vomiting
  • Diahoerea
  • Rash or bruising

More about the experts:

Prof Andre Venter is the former Academic Head of the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at the University of the Free State and a founder director of the Maternal and Child Academic Hospital (MACAH) Foundation. He specialises is developmental paediatrics and is passionate about helping children, and especially those with cognitive, physical, emotional, psychological and educational barriers, to grow, develop and reach their full potential and become accepted and useful members of our society. Learn more about Prof Andre Venter here.

Dr Riana van Zyl is a senior paediatric consultant and lecturer at the University of the Free State with a specific passion for the care of children and adolescents infected as well as affected by HIV and AIDS. As one of the MACAH Foundation’s founding directors she aims to make a sustainable difference in the lives of mothers, infants and children. Learn more about Dr Riana van Zyl here.

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