All you need to know about taking your baby's temperature, spotting high temperature in children and soothing a fever.
What causes a high temperature?
Running a high temperature is the body's way of fighting infection and it's actually a sign that your baby's immune system is doing its job. By raising its internal temperature your baby's body is destroying any bugs they've picked up so although its hard, try not to worry too much.
Fevers and high temperature can be caused by all sorts of things from colds and ear infections to tonsillitis and flu, chicken pox to a viral infection, the list is endless.
What's classed as a high temperature?
Your baby's healthy resting temperature will vary between 36 and 36.8 degC (96.8 - 98.2 degF) while a high temperature is classed as above 38 degC / 100 degF. You're likely to notice that your baby's body temperature is naturally cooler in the morning and warmer in the evening and this will tend to apply whether they are running a fever or not.
Taking your baby's temperature
If your baby has a temperature it's likely that you'll notice simply by touching or kissing their forehead, however to get a more accurate reading you will need to use a baby-friendly thermometer.
For younger infants under 3 years of age you shouldn't use a regular thermometer to take their temperature orally, however you can use it to take their underarm temperature. You can get an underarm reading by placing the bulb of the thermometer against the skin under their arm pit and holding their arm against their side for approximately five minutes. This is likely to give a slightly lower reading than your baby's actual temperature as it measures the temperature of their skin rather than that of their core so rounding up by approximately half a degree is usually necessary.
Ear thermometers are ideal for use on young infants and can often provide the most accurate reading possible as the inner ear has a temperature very similar to that of your baby's core temperature. To take a reading you will simply need to hold the thermometer in your baby's ear until it displays the digital reading.
Forehead strips are again slightly less accurate however they are incredibly convenient, especially if your baby doesn't like to sit still. Place the strip on your baby's forehead, being careful not to touch your fingers on the heat sensitive strips, and hold it in place for a couple of minutes.
Soothing a fever
- Keep your baby's room comfortably cool; open a window, turn down the heating or even switch on a fan if necessary.
- Dress your baby in cool, cotton clothing so that the heat can escape from their skin, this will stop them from becoming clammy. A nappy and vest may suffice until they cool down a little.
- When you lay your baby down for a nap there's no need to wrap them up in blankets, simply tuck them in with a cotton sheet to keep them cool.
- The saying 'feed a cold and starve a fever' definitely does not apply to infants and your baby will need lots of fluid and calories to battle infection when they're under the weather. If your baby is running a temperature make sure they are feeding frequently and consuming plenty of milk or cooled, boiled water.
- Infant painkillers can be used to bring down your baby's temperature as long as you follow the instructions carefully. Calpol and Disparol are common varieties however your pharmacist should be able to advise you on a suitable remedy.
The NHS recommend that it's safe to give babies over 2 months of age and 4kg (9lb) children's liquid paracetamol as long as they were born after at least 37 weeks of pregnancy. While infants over 3 months can be given infant liquid paracetamol or ibuprofen as long as they weight more than 5kg (11lbs). However, if your baby has previously shown a sensitivity to infant painkillers or has suffered with other health problems in the past you should check with your doctor before administering any drugs.
Children under the age of 16 should never be given aspirin.
When should you call the doctor?
As your baby's immune system is still developing you may notice that they run a high temperature quite often. However, they should also pass relatively quickly as their body learns to recognise and build up an immunity to different bugs.
You know your baby best and if they have a high temperature but appear to be their usual selves then in all likelihood they'll be fine and it will pass quickly. However, you should call the doctor if your baby:
Whether you have a question about your baby's health or something else entirely why not visit the AskBaby forums for a chat with other Mums and Dads.
- Is younger than 3 months and has a high temperature.
- Has a high temperature for more than 3 days.
- Cries continually and inconsolably.
- Appears lethargic and uninterested in feeding.
- Has trouble breathing.
- Is drowsy and won't wake easily.
- Is vomiting continuously or has diarrhoea.
- Has an unusual rash.
- Has a fit or febrile convulsion.
- Shows signs of other illness.