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Fever & high temperature in children

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:
  • 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.
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my son has been running a temperature for 3 days it is currently 39.1 after giving calpol and opening windows etc. it was as high as 40 degrees an hour ago - should I take him to A&E?
by andrewph 31st Jan 2011, 9:17am
hi i have an 18month old son an i would like to agree with mooseymoose my son had a cough so i took him to the gp 6 times in 2 weeks an they told me it was an ear infection an gave hm antibiotics 1 week after that he had a febra convulsion (fit) because he had a fever of 39.c.

I phoned an ambulance as i didnt no why he was having a fit at the time an they took me striaght to a&e were my son got admitted to hospital for nearly two weeks because he had a seriuos viral infection which lowered all his white blood cells.

I am only 22 but i would advise anyone who is worried about there child to just phone an ambulance an take them to a&e you know your child better then anyone else
lorna x
by lorna22 26th Jan 2011, 8:53am
My son is almost 3, he keeps getting a slight temp 37,8 with a slight cough. Each time I take him to the doctor they say he fine. But this continues for days until it suddenly become temp of 39 or 40, then the doctor will give him something. How do I stop him getting to this point, during this whole process he sleeps badly, hardly eats and is absolutely unhappy.
by viljoen 17th Jan 2011, 2:52pm
Hi my son is 2 and has a sore throat and cold been to the doctors today and his lowest temperature was 39.2 now its 39.8 do I take him to hospital please help
by charlotte08 13th Dec 2010, 8:48am
Please can someone help me, my daughter is 3 years old and was born 10 weeks premature, I keep taking her to the doctors because she constantly has a high temperature, she has had one now for 2 days but doc says there is nothing wrong with her but why does she keep getting ill?
by Linsey30 18th Nov 2010, 11:08am
Can I please urge any mothers who have babies or toddlers with a temperature in excess of 39 degrees to call a health professional for IMMEDIATE advice. Don't sit at home second guessing. I've taken my baby/toddler to A&E several times over the years and they have always kept us in overnight or longer for observation and treatment so my gut instinct was correct. As the mother - you know if your child is ill. If what you feel is incongruous with what your GP is telling you, then please do seek a second opinion URGENTLY. I'd rather call out an ambulance in the middle of the night (and I have) for a 40 degree temperature, than put my child through unnecessary stress. If you need help - then get it. Don't be shy to ask. Mother knows best.

My first child died at age 15 months of what seemed to be just a cold - and he was a very healthy, big, strong little boy. I didn't know anything about what to do with a temperature - so I gave him some water (which he threw up) and stripped him down to a nappy and mopped him with a cold face cloth. He should have been in hospital then, but I didn't know it was that serious. He had pneumonia!

These days I am a lot more aware, and I read some of comments below in horror. In most of your situations I would be straight into hospital like a shot! Better to be safe than sorry. I don't mean to be alarmist, but's important to treat any high temperatures with the utmost respect. Trust your instinct - if you feel your child is not improving then call a health professional immediately.

G x
by MooseyMoose 1st Nov 2010, 9:08am
My 4wk old baby girl has a cold really snuffly nose she is breastfed g was told by healthvisitor baby wouldn't get cold would she need to see gp or keep feeding her was also told to use snuffle babe on her
by Heho 11th Oct 2010, 9:05am
To Lishaboo18....Wipe with the cold rag (you stated) also the armpit (both) and front neck of your baby to ease the temperature (get down). And also, please ask hospital or clinic for the urine test of your baby, it might have a urinary tract infections (UTI). If so, antibiotic will take by your baby prescribed by the doctor. Give your baby more liquids to drink or eat ( soups ) to prevent dehydration. Give her paracetamol (Calpol) every 6 hours and after 3 hours if the paracetamol didn't work yet, give her a ibufropen (Neurofen) And don't panic! She will be fined..
by Kutchero 11th Jun 2010, 5:27pm
My daughter is 8 months today and woke up to a fever of 102.9. I have not yet to take her to the hospital because coincidentally she had a doctors appointment today. The doctor said it was okay to give her shots but, now it seems like shes getting worse. Right now I have a window open, her clothes off, and a cold rag laying across her forehead. Is there anything else I could do??? If anyone has comments or advice please I am in desperate need of getting her back to her usual self.
by Lishaboo18 14th May 2010, 5:25pm
my son is 1yrs old and he has a cough he keeps sneezing he wakes up crying he feels really hot if i touch his leg with my arm he burns me he wont eat his food and when he has his daily bottle he throws up he wont even eat his chocolate and im really worried bout him he is aslo sleeping alot can anyone tell me what might be wrong with him
by emmald21 21st Dec 2009, 10:02am
my daughter yesterday was diagnosed with swine flu,her temp was 38.9,she now is on tamiflu,but was still burning up,i searched the net and i found this site,by fallowing the steps on how to cool her down it helped anormousley,she has better nights sleep and fingers crossed that shel be back to her old self.
by wig 8th Dec 2009, 5:58pm
i need advice on my daughter she came up in brown marks over her body about 12 hrs after she had a high temperature of 103 f / 39.5 c. i took her to the doctors but they just said it was because she had a fever and ear infection i just need to know if anyone else has experienced it or knows if its normal in children. my daughter is only 3 1/2 and she normal has a red rash when she gets a fever so this is the first time ive had to deal with this.
by hmarinou 19th Nov 2009, 9:24am
i visited this site today and feel much pleasure to know that this is how much wonderful material in it for the betterment of our child
by mujtaba 27th Oct 2009, 2:52pm

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