Your baby’s first raised temperature can be scary. As normal as getting a high temperature might be, it can be alarming, and knowing what to do when your baby does have a raised temperature can really go a long way in helping you deal with the situation effectively.
In order to properly manage a raised temperature in a baby, you need to know how to read a temperature, what is normal, how to treat a temperature and when to seek medical help.


What is a normal temperature for a baby?

The normal temperature range for a baby is between 36°C and 37.5°C (96.8F to 99.5F). It may vary a bit depending on when and how the reading is taken, but anything between that is considered normal.


What is a high temperature for a baby?

For babies under the age of 3 months old, anything above 100F (38°C) is considered a fever. Over the age of 3 months, a high temperature is considered over 101F (38.5°C). Environmental factors need to be taken into account when reading a baby’s temperature, for example wearing excessive clothing or being wrapped up in a warm blanket.

What is the best way to read a baby’s temperature?

The most accurate way to read a baby temperature is by using a rectal thermometer. This, however, is not always comfortable for the baby, and many parents aren’t comfortable using this method either.

Other reliable ways to take a baby’s temperature include a thermometer placed in the ear, rubbed across the forehead, or newer type thermometers that can read a temperature from a distance. These infrared thermometers are really worth having, as they give an instant and accurate reading without causing any distress to an already uncomfortable baby. Here is more detail about the different types of thermometers:

Digital – digital thermometers use electronic heat-sensing technology to read and record body temperature. They can be used in the mouth, under the armpit or rectally.

Ear thermometers – These thermometers take a reading from the tympanic membrane. They use an infrared ray to read and measure the temperature inside the ear canal. A curved ear canal or ear wax may interfere with the reading.

Temporal artery thermometers – This thermometer uses an infrared scanner to read and measure the temporal artery in the forehead. It can be used while the child is asleep.
There are different areas of the body that a temperature reading can be taken on.

Rectal – The tip of the thermometer will need to be lubricated with petroleum jelly when being inserted rectally. Lay your child on their back, lift their thighs an insert the thermometer no further than an inch into the rectum. Don’t try and force past any resistance as this could cause lesions or tears and be incredibly painful for the child. Wait till the reading is done, remove and take down the temperature.

Oral – The tip of the thermometer needs to be placed under the tongue towards the back of the mouth, with the child’s lips closed. Wait 15 minutes to take a temperature reading if your child has been eating or drinking. Once the thermometer is
done, remove and take down the reading.

Armpit – This is the least accurate of all readings, but sometimes is the only option if your child is being fussy. Place the thermometer under your child’s armpit, making sure it is in contact with skin and not clothing. Keep the thermometer tightly in place until the reading has been completed.

Ear – Gently and carefully place the thermometer into your child’s ear. Follow the instructions that come with the thermometer to make sure you place the thermometer properly into the ear canal, not too far in or not in too little. Once it is done, remove and take the reading.

Temporal artery – Gently sweep the thermometer across the forehead. Simply remove the thermometer and take the reading. This is the quickest and least invasive method to take your child’s temperature at home.

It is always a good idea to try and take two consecutive readings in case something had interfered with the first. Once you have your reading, you can decide what to do from there. Remember the exact temperature as you will need to let your doctor know if you end up seeking medical attention for your child. Also be sure to let the doctor know how you took this temperature, as that is an important factor for them.


What causes a raised temperature in babies?

There are several factors and conditions that may cause a baby to run a high temperature.

• A mild viral infection is a common cause of a raised temperature. A fever is a good sign that a baby’s immune system is fighting off the infection.

• Colds, flu, throat and ear infections can all cause raised temperatures. These are not a concern unless they happen regularly, and the fever should not last more than 48 hours.

Teething can cause a raised temperature, but a teething temperature seldom reaches over 101F / 38.5°C.

• Sunburn and overheating are also a cause of a raised temperature.

• Serious conditions that could cause a rise in temperature include a bacterial infection in the lungs (pneumonia), blood, brain (meningitis), or urine.

What are the signs of a raised temperature?

Other than feeling warm to the touch, a baby might show signs of being uncomfortable and irritated. They may have flushed cheeks, sore joints and muscles, as well as a lack of appetite and sleepiness. A child might complain of feeling cold, even though they are warm to the touch.


When a temperature should cause concern

A high temperature is a sign that the body is trying to fight off an infection. Often, the immune system is able to fight off the infection, but at times it is not strong enough and further help is needed.

For a baby under the age of 3 months old, it is advised that any high fever should be treated by a doctor. The underlying cause needs to be identified and treated, as the baby is still young and their immune system might not be strong enough to fight the infection off yet.

A parent should become concerned with a high fever when the child starts showing signs of a stiff neck or by light surrounding them – these are two signs of a serious infection called meningitis.

With high fevers can sometimes come excessive vomiting. This can cause dehydration in a child which can make their condition much worse and their body much weaker. A rash, breathing difficulty or lethargic behavior are all signs that your child needs to see a doctor for medical treatment.

How to reduce a baby’s fever

It is important to keep a child hydrated when they are running a fever to avoid dehydration. Small sips of water will help, and a dose of ibuprofen or paracetamol may help bring the temperature down.

Reducing a fever does not mean the infection is getting better. It is simply making your child more comfortable when they have a fever, so the infection still needs to be dealt with.

Remove any excess or unnecessary clothing, but do not make the child feel cold. Using a damp cloth to wipe their forehead and neck will also help keep the temperature down, as well as help them feel more comfortable. It is not a good idea to fan a child, sponge them down or put them in a cold bath, this could make them become too cold and it will not help them be comfortable at all.

As a parent, seeing your baby sick and running a fever can be hard. You just want to swaddle them up and comfort them, and this is often all they want you to do as well. As difficult as it is, you need to try to avoid it. Your body heat will only make their fever worse, and not give them the chance to cool down. Hold their hand or rub their forehead to soothe them, but avoid too much physical contact.

Dealing with a fever

If your baby falls asleep with a fever, even after they have had medication, it is important to keep an eye on them throughout the night. The medicine may wear off in a few hours and their fever might return. Sometimes the fever can cause them to become quite lethargic, and they may not have the energy or strength to wake you. Serious fevers can also cause seizures and convulsions, so keep them close to you throughout the night just in case. Have medicines and a thermometer on hand so you don’t have to waste time searching for them in the middle of the night.

Babies and fevers

A fever is a sign that the immune system is fighting off an infection. They are common in babies and young children and often go away on their own with minimal intervention. However, fevers can be a sign of something more serious, so as a parent you need to be prepared with the knowledge and tools on how to recognize and monitor a fever, and when to seek help.