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Give acetaminophen to babies under 6 months; ibuprofen isn't approved for kids that young because its safety hasn't been established. For older kids, ibuprofen seems to bring fever down faster, according to a research review in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. But since acetaminophen is less likely to cause stomach upset, it may be a better bet for kids with a sensitive tummy. Read all medication labels carefully, and make sure no other medications contain acetaminophen or ibuprofen if she's already taking medication for fever. Otherwise, you could end up giving your child a double dose. And you should never "eyeball" the dose; follow the instructions on the bottle. Choose the amount that matches your child's current weight, and use the dropper that came in the package. Because fever medications are sold in different strengths, the dropper for one bottle might not be right for another.
And remember, the main reason to give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen is to make her more comfortable -- not to "break" the fever. Fever is actually a good thing, since it helps the body fight infection. Most illness-causing germs thrive at a person's core body temperature (98.6 F.), so when the immune system detects an infection, it responds by cranking up the body's thermostat to help kill the germs. Just don't expect an immediate recovery. At most, the meds will bring a fever down a degree or two -- just enough to make your child feel better. --Avery Hurt
Originally published in Parents magazine, October 2007. Updated 2009
The answers from our experts are for educational purposes only. Please always refer to your child's pediatrician and mental health expert for more in-depth advice.