Normal temperature in a child is approximately 97.5 degrees Fahrenheit (36.4 degrees Celsius), when measured under them arm. Fever is considered a temperature above 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit (37.5 degrees Celsius), when measured under the arm or in the mouth. Your baby may have fever if he or she:
- Feels sweaty or clammy
- Has flushed cheeks
- Feels hotter than usual to touch on his or her stomach, forehead, or back1
Fevers are quite common in babies and small children and, like in adults, they are often a sign that the body is trying to fight off an infection.
Common causes of a fever include:
- Upper respiratory tract infections
- Urinary tract or kidney infections
- Ear infections
- Whooping cough2
- Routine vaccinations (the fever caused by these should clear up quite quickly by itself)
How to take your baby’s temperature
If you think that your baby may have a fever, check his or her their temperature with a thermometer. This will provide you with the information you need to decide on the next steps. Digital thermometers are ideal, as they are fast and give accurate readings. You can find digital thermometers in pharmacies and most supermarkets and they are usually inexpensive. Other types of thermometers can be inaccurate (ear thermometer or strip-type thermometer) or potentially dangerous (mercury-based thermometers).1
One way to measure your baby’s temperature is to place the thermometer under their armpit. Gently but firmly hold their arm against their body to keep the thermometer in place for the amount of time stated in the manufacturer’s instructions. This is usually a period of around 15 seconds. Some digital thermometers beep when they are ready.
Another approach is to measure the baby’s rectal temperature. You can buy special digital thermometers for this. When taking a temperature rectally you should:
- Put a large amount of petroleum jelly on the base of the thermometer
- Place your baby on their stomach or hold his legs up near his ears while he or she is lying on their back and stabilize them
- Insert the thermometer slowly into his anus up to half and inch – just so the metal bulb is inside
- Gently hold the thermometer in place until it beeps and then pull it out3
There are a few occasions when a digital thermometer might not be accurate, but this is usually due to the child’s conditions and not to the thermometer. These include if your child has been:
- Tightly wrapped up in a blanket
- Very active
- Having a bath
- In a very warm room
- Wearing a lot of clothes1
Treating a fever
It is important to keep your baby hydrated if they have a fever. Even if they aren’t thirsty, try and get them to drink a little bit and often, so as to keep their fluid levels up. They should be appropriately dressed for their surroundings although, if the environment is warm, you could help your child to be comfortable by opening a window or covering them with a light sheet. However, sponging your child with cool water to reduce the fever is not recommended.
You could also give them either paracetamol or ibuprofen, but not both at the same time. These medications are painkillers as well as being antipyretic (fever reducing). However, it is not necessary to give your child medication if they are not distressed by the fever.2
When is it urgent that I contact my healthcare provider?
You should contact your healthcare provider urgently if:
- your baby is less than 3 months old and has a temperature of 101 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) or higher or
- your baby is between the age of 3 and 6 months and has a temperature of 102 degrees Fahrenheit (39 degrees Celsius) or higher
You should also contact your healthcare provider if your child has persistent vomiting, refuses to feed, is floppy or drowsy, or has other signs of being unwell.1,2