As a parent, seeing your kid with a fever sucks and they can be very scary.  Once you have context of the fever, you’re able to take some of the emotion out of the issue and use some logic.  Hopefully this gives you a bit of insight to assess the situation.

Why does my child have a fever?

A fever is your child’s intelligent genetic natural ability to fight off bacteria and/or a virus.  We use heat to kill off pathogens that might be lurking in our food.  Your child’s body does the exact same thing.  The cool thing is that your child’s body doesn’t have to get to 120+ degrees to kill everything.

Most bacteria do not live above 120°F, and as you increase the temperature you kill more of them. At 102°F most bacteria can no longer reproduce, which is the protective nature of human fevers. – Dr. Terry Simpson MD

A fever is an aspect of inflammation.  Inflammation is a function of your immune system.  In an acute phase, inflammation is great because it’s signaling your body to fight.  Be thankful that your child has a fever.  It means that his or her body is capable of fighting. Long term is where problems arise and this is why I think so many parents quickly jump to a fever reducer.  We hear scary stories of brain swelling and think the child’s head is going to explode.

FeverSince 102°F will drastically limit the ability of a bacteria to reproduce, let the fever ride.  With my own kids, I plan on letting it ride for 2-3 days.  If after 3 days it hasn’t come down then I look for an intervention to bring it down.  But having that game plan going into this time helps me not screw up the intelligent design of their body.

Ultimately the fever is trying to slow your kid down to conserve energy.  The immune system uses a lot of energy.  Your kid will be lethargic, that’s ok.  Being active takes a lot of energy.  Digestion takes a lot of energy.  Your kid won’t have an appetite, that’s ok.

NOTE: My kids at age 3 ½ and 1 ½ have never had a fever above 102°F last for more than a day.  They also have never had an antibiotic, Aspirin, Tylenol, or Advil.  I will detail why I think our kids have been fever less at the end of this post.  This isn’t to brag but to give hope and possibly take some fear out of parenting.

Why does a fever yo-yo?

Your child’s fever will yo-yo because your child’s body is intelligent.  A fever, much less one that goes up and down is your kid’s internal genius expressing.

You’ve probably noticed that the fever is best in the morning when your child wakes up and will be highest at night after dinner. You get frustrated because you thought your child was getting better.  You immediately think things are taking a turn for the worse and you break initial plan of letting it ride for 3 days and start easing the fever with fever reducers.

The next morning comes and the fever is better.  You back off on the fever reducers and to your dismay, the fever is worse again at night.  Panic starts, even though the fever hasn’t broken a high threshold for more than a couple hours.  When I say I plan on letting the fever ride for 3 days at 102° to 104°, I mean there’s no change.  If it’s dipping down to 101° in the morning and then back to 103° at night, I’m ok.

It sucks for the child and for the parent watching, but it’s ok.

The fever yo-yo’s because that’s the natural cycle of the hormone Cortisol.  Cortisol gets badly named the ‘stress hormone.’  It should be called the ‘life saving’ hormone.  During a scary event, it will increase.  Its job is to free up sugar from your body and dump it into your blood stream.  This newly found energy is used to escape the scary event.

What scares the body more than anything is not waking up from sleep.  Naturally, in the morning, Cortisol will be higher to get you out of bed.  Cortisol will be released to protect you.  As I’ve written previously based on a paraphrased quote from Dr. Bruce Lipton PhD, “You can’t be in growth and protection at the same time.”

What does this have to do with a fever?  Remember, a fever is an effect of inflammation.  Inflammation is mediated by your immune system.  Your immune system is part of your parasympathetic nervous system; simply your brake pedal.  If your child is always in go-mode, the immune system is compromised.  If you’re running from a bear, the last thing your body cares about is whether you can fight off an infection.  The bear is the pressing issue and takes priority.

Think what happens to your college kids.  They push through finals week on all nighters and Red Bull.  They feel great.  As soon as they get home for Christmas break, they crash and think they ‘caught a bug’ at home.  In reality, due to all the stress of finals (physical, chemical, and emotional), they had put a kink in their immune system’s hose.  When they got home, they unkinked the hose and the immune system comes on like a water fall.

If the morning is favoring protection to get you out of bed, this will naturally reduce your fever since this resides on your protection side.  When you go to bed at night, your nervous system favors your growth and healing side, therefore allowing the fever to rise.

Take Away: It’s natural for your child’s fever to be lower in the morning and higher in the evening.  If your child has a cold, you may also notice the cough and sniffles will be better in the morning and worse in the evening.  It’s the same principle of the nervous system shifting between protection mode and growth mode.  Both are essential at appropriate times.

What’s the Best Fever Reducer?

This is the wrong question to ask.  If you’re still looking for this answer after reading this far, go back to the previous 2 sections.  Reducing a fever prematurely cuts out your child’s natural ability to heal.  Reducing a fever allows the bacteria or virus to do more damage since you just took away your child’s immune defense system.

Before giving a fever reducer to your kids, ask yourself, “Am I reaching for a fever reducer because my child is in actual danger or am I just trying to make my child feel comfortable?”  If your answer is that your child is in danger, seek emergency care immediately.  Don’t guess with dosing of fever reducers.  Get guidance.  Those things are dangerous.

I’m not the emergency guy.  If you email me in the middle of a 105°F fever, expecting a speedy response, you’re not going to get one.  If it’s an emergency, get emergency help.

If your answer is that you’re just trying to make your child feel better, then put a different context around the question.  Would you give a dose of crystal meth to a meth addict while he is in with-drawl to make him feel better?  Protecting our kids from danger should look much different that protecting our kids from discomfort. In our parental fear, it’s easy to apply the same strategy to both scenarios.

[bctt tweet=”Protecting our kids from danger should look much different that protecting our kids from discomfort.”]

If the fever has gone longer than 3 days consistently at 102° – 104°, then seek medical help.  They have all kinds of things that can knock out a fever.  The problem is that those fever reducers scare the crap out of me to use hap hazardously.  If it is a real emergency scenario, I would be more scared of losing my child than potential side effects from reducing his fever so I would follow the directions of the provider.  I haven’t come to the point as a parent.  Your story might be different.

Our personal experience for keeping kids healthy.

These are some actions we do regularly to support our kid’s growth side of the nervous system.  What I see more often than not is that a fever, an ear infection, ADHD, etc are symptoms that are pointing to a much deeper problem…autonomic imbalance.  In other words, your child is flooring the gas pedal side of life and it’s only a matter of time before she crashes or runs out of gas.  These are some lifestyle choices we make to make sure that the brakes are great working order.

Chiropractic

I have checked and adjusted both our kids within in minutes of being delivered.  I continue to check them weekly and plan on doing this for as long as my hands work and for as long as they will lay down to allow me to check them.  It wasn’t because they came out of the womb with a crick in their neck or sciatica running down their leg.

I check our kids regularly and many other kids to make sure their nervous system is balanced.  Remember, you can’t be in growth and protection at the same time.  One of the greatest influencers into the growth mode of your child’s nervous system is the Vagus Nerve.  The vagus nerve is the brake pedal.

Kids won’t express it like adults do but our kids are extremely stressed.  Assessing the nervous system and getting regular chiropractic care has been a huge factor in allowing our kids to express health.  Stress isn’t just an emotional thing.  There are physical stresses like birth trauma, c-section, posture imbalances, and falls.  There are also chemical stresses like what your kid puts in their mouth, puts on their skin, and breaths in their lungs.

The best success is when we address the underlying stresses.  Parents, often times, we’re the source without even realizing it.

If you are in Colorado Springs, come check us out.  If you need someone in your area, just drop your zip code into the comments below and I will try and match you with someone in your area that eats, drinks, and breaths kid chiropractic.

Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Inflammation is an effect of the immune system.  Inflammation likes to party and will invite the whole town.  Acute, short term inflammation is life saving.  When that inflammatory response becomes the norm and chronic, health suffers.

One of the ways to keep the body in chill mode is to control what goes into the child’s mouth.  The most inflammatory foods are also the most commonly consumed: Sugar, Wheat,  and Milk…Whitey.  Kill Whitey!!

One of the biggest frustrations I hear from the parents I take care of is that there seems to be endless school parties filled with this garbage.  The frustration is that other parents don’t think it’s a big deal because it only happens ‘once in a while.’  If you think these parties only happen once in a while, I want you to take inventory of each week your child has a party at school.  You’ll be shocked.

Our kids were not introduced to food until about 10 months and kept consuming breast milk until about 16-18 months.  The foods we introduced would resemble a Paleo diet.  Introducing solid food too early into a digestive system not ready for it can start the motors revving of an imbalanced nervous system.

To this day, they have never had a bowl of cereal or a sandwich.  My amazing wife prepares their meals.  It’s hard and tiring at times but we are in the practice of health promotion, not just symptom management or prevention.

We also regularly supplement with Juice Plus and methylated B vitamins.

Water

Once they were done with breast milk, they have had one option and one option only for a beverage.  No juice, no soda, no milk.  They drink water, water, or water.  They like water and they ask for water.  We have made coconut milk based smoothies and we rewarded our oldest with some Jamba Juice when he was finally potty trained but their yearly non-water consumption is less than my yearly alcohol consumption, which is about 2x/year.  I have a beer with a good friend 1x/year and some eggnog on New Year’s eve.  Best. Eggnog. Ever.  If it was available more, I’d probably have a drinking problem.

Vaccines

I don’t care what your stance is on vaccines.  The truth is that in order for a vaccine to trick your body into having an immune reaction, they have to be loaded with ingredients called adjuvants.  These ingredients are irritating to the nervous system.  They are inflammatory.

When there is inflammation, there is an immune response.  Inflammation shifts the body into protection mode.  1 vaccine may not be that harmful but 36 by 18 months has your child’s nervous system flooring the gas pedal with both feet.  We’re not anti-vaccine.  We’re pro-health.

Schedules

My kids have a fairly routine daily schedule.  This helps their nervous system stay relaxed.  Part of that schedule is not scheduling too much.  I always see these road side signs for soccer and t-ball teams advertising for 18 months to 3 years.  Seriously?  If not soccer, there’s gymnastics, swim lessons, mommy groups, dance, etc.

I’m not sure these things are for the kids.  Parents love them because it gets them out of the house.  Are we putting too much pressure on kids at too young of an age that already have enough pressure to try and run without face planting?

Think of all the physical demands a child is going through.  They are constantly experiencing and learning new skills each day; walking, walking with shoes on, eating with a fork, not taking a deuce in their pants, putting their arm in the correct hole in their shirt, colors, numbers, letters, dog vs. cat, yes vs. no, don’t put finger in outlet.

BusyPut yourself in your kid’s shoes.  How overwhelmed does it make you when you go to work, have 3 meetings that day, hit the gym, grocery shop, you get a text every 38 seconds, your father-in-law is in the hospital again, church just asked you to volunteer to bake 8 dozen cupcakes (gluten free ones, of course), and you just realized your nephew’s 1 year old birthday party is tomorrow?  Your kids are no different.

And you wonder why you always get sick on vacation?

The more you put on their plate, the more their nervous system shifts and sets a new default towards protection side.  You wonder why the kid is constantly sick?  Find rest before rest finds you.

Think of the fever like the check engine light.  The engine has been revving too hard for too long and the system is about to crash.  The irony is that we treat our cars more intelligently than our kids sometimes.  There’s very few of you that would put some duct tape over that check engine light on your car but there are millions of us that do that very thing when our kid has a fever.

A symptom-free child does not mean you have a healthy child.  A child with symptoms does not mean you have a sick child.  Your child’s body is an amazing self-healing, self-regulating organism.  When we interfere with that ability, we don’t have healthy kids.  When we support that ability, it takes some of the fear out of parenting.

It’s not always easy and never ever perfect.  With the illness trends seen in our youngest population, you’re going to have to be a little weird most times and a lot weird sometimes.  The biggest fear us weird parents have is that our kids are going to be normal.  Sick is the new normal.  Let’s get weird about fevers.

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  1. Well said. I’m glad I read the full article. Reminds me of a quote I once heard, “If you don’t control your health, one day it will control you”. (I’m paraphrasing). And reading this reminds me that we don’t have to accept today’s “normal” that poor health is bad luck or bad genes! We are designed for health, healing, and repair, and the fuel for the “engine” is so important – food, water, movement, and stress management…All SO worth living for, and creating a lifestyle for! Thanks Dr. Kurt!

  2. I read all the way to the end, but missed the part about actually lowering a fever? OR do you not do it at all b/c after 3 days you’d go ahead and get intervention? I’ve never lowered a fever, but I did give Advil 1 time for an ear infection when Zach wanted desperately to go to bed, was in his bed early, but just lay there holding his ear and crying. My philosophy for a long time has been that I would give something is the discomfort was preventing sleep. A fever has never prevented sleep for either of my kids, but that ear infection did, just one time. Would you have other recommendations?

    • Hey Sarah. Yes, my point was to not lower the fever hap hazardously because the body has induced a fever to fight something. Lowering the fever takes away the body’s defense against the potentially harmful invader. To help mitigate pain if an ear infection, I would do something like Arnica or even natural teething tabs. Getting adjusted also helps great to help the ear drain. But even with ear infections, standard of care is still to wait 3 days since the overwhelming majority of the time the ear infection is viral in nature and antibiotics won’t do anything against a virus.

  3. I came across your blog through a post on Facebook. Couldn’t agree more about not going crazy over fevers. However, and this comes from very recent experience, there is an exception for newborns. My two week old daughter had a slight fever one night. We didn’t think anything of it (she is our eighth child) and we knew she had a check up the next morning anyway. She was sent directly to ER the next day and spent almost 4 weeks in NICU. Waiting those few hours overnight made a huge difference and she came close to not making it because her infection was septic and crossed into the spinal fluid causing meningitis. My point is that ANY fever in a child under two months old should be taken VERY seriously and be taken care of as soon as possible. DON’T wait with a newborn.

    We avoid antibiotics like the plague, but we find ourselves relying on them to keep our daughter safe right now. She was diagnosed with a VU Reflux (stage 5 on one side, stage 4 on the other, passive). She has already been hospitalized a second time for infection. She’s on a daily low dose antibiotic (to keep her urine sterile) until she reaches a year old and can have surgery. I was able to pump milk for her while she was in the hospital, and she’s been able to nurse well so we are doing what we can to help keep good flora going in. We also have her on an infant probiotic. Is there anything else we can do to build up and protect her immune system until she can have her surgery?