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What to do if your baby has a fever

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What to do if your baby has a fever

A fever is a temperature of over 37.5°C. Fevers are quite common in young children and are usually mild.

The normal body temperature for children ranges from 36°C (96.8°F) to 37°C (98.6°F).
Anything under 35°C (95°F) is a concern because if the body temperature falls below this level, hypothermia can develop.

Remember that a child’s temperature will be higher if he has been running around and lower in the morning than the evening because of muscle activity throughout the day. If your child’s temperature is high, wait for 20 minutes and retake it to check it is still high.

Always contact your GP, health visitor, practice nurse or nurse practitioner if:

  • Your child has other signs of illness as well as a raised temperature
  • Your baby’s temperature is 38°C (101°F) or higher (if they’re under three months), or
  • Your baby’s temperature is 39°C (102°F) or higher (if they’re three to six months)

If the doctor doesn’t find a reason for the temperature, they may ask you to collect a urine sample in a sterile container so they can test for infection.

How to take your child’s temperature

It is best not to rely on the hand-on-the-forehead method, and invest in a good children’s thermometer. There are lots of different types available, and some are more suitable for children and babies than others.

Digital thermometers

These are probably the most accurate as they give high and low readings and can be inserted quickly into your child’s ear. They are probably the easiest as they can get a temperature reading almost straight away so if you have a wiggly, sick child, it will not be too disruptive for them. They are probably the most expensive thermometer available and need batteries to work. You can also place a digital thermometer in your child’s mouth under her tongue, but it is best to read the thermometer’s instructions on how to get the best reading.

Mercury thermometers

Mercury thermometers are unsuitable for small children to use as they tend to bite the thermometer and object to it being in their mouths for a long time. For small children, it may be better to place the thermometer under their armpit for three minutes, but bear in mind this will give you a reading approximately 0.6° C or 1°F below body temperature so you need to adjust accordingly.

Forehead thermometers

Forehead thermometers are also easier to use with small children and babies but are the least accurate. Place the strip on your child’s forehead with the numbers and panels facing outwards. Try not to touch the strip too much with your own fingers. Press flat and leave in place for 15 seconds. The panels will light up the temperature of your child’s forehead.

What should I do if my baby has a fever?

  • Give your child plenty of cool clear fluids.
  • Undress them to their nappy or vest and pants.
  • Place a flannel, sponge or muslin cloth wetted with lukewarm water on your child's forehead.
  • Cover them with a sheet if necessary.
  • Keep the room well aired and at a comfortable temperature (about 18°C (65°F)) by adjusting the heating or opening a window.
  • If your child is distressed and uncomfortable, try giving them paracetamol or ibuprofen. You can’t give them both at the same time, but if one doesn’t work, you may want to try the other later. Always check the instructions on the bottle or packet to find out the correct dose and frequency for your child’s age.

If you have a thermometer, take your child’s temperature. If it’s above 40°C (104°F), or if your child still feels feverish, contact your GP or GP out-of-hours service or call NHS Direct on 111.


Dr Andrew Jenkins

Dr. Jenkins is a paediatrician in private practice, committed to improving the health of children and the awareness of science-based childcare practices.

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