fever in children: temperature being tested

(NB Resolution, I’ve no access to a baby fever chart as noted in the brief. Can you access same for inclusion?)

A high temperature, also known as a fever is generally a sign the body trying to fit off an infection. Instead of the body’s temperature being within a ‘normal’ range, it increases.

What is a normal temperature range for a baby?

An average temperature for a baby is around 36.5⁰C to 38⁰C. A fever is a temperature above 38⁰C.

Temperatures can take a while to go up or they can rise quickly. Whilst it can be very worrying when a baby has a fever, it’s rarely harmful, though a fever can cause a baby to feel uncomfortable.

How would I know if my baby has a fever?

The only sure way of knowing is if you measure their temperature. Sometimes a baby with a fever seems absolutely fine, other times they can appear fussy and miserable.

Other signs of a fever are

  • Appearing pale and not well.
  • Shivering and shaking.
  • Their skin feels hot.
  • Their skin looks flushed.
  • Not wanting to play or interact and just wanting to be cuddled.
  • Demanding more frequent breast or bottle feeds.

What can cause a baby to have a fever?

Generally a fever is a sign that the body is trying to fight off an infection. It’s a natural response from the immune system when it detects a bacterial or viral infection. Fevers can also happen after vaccinations. A fever is less commonly related to teething.

The most common illnesses which cause fever are:

  • Coughs and colds – URTIs (Upper respiratory tract infections).
  • Gastroenteritis.
  • Ear infections.
  • Gastroenteritis.
  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs).
  • Chest infections such as pneumonia.
  • Infectious diseases such as measles, chickenpox.
  • Meningitis.

Fevers can also be caused by allergic reactions or other, less common health issues such as joint inflammation or gastrointestinal diseases.

How can I take my baby’s temperature?

  • With a digital thermometer placed under their arm.
  • With a thermometer which records the temperature of the baby’s forehead.
  • With a digital thermometer which measures the temperature via the baby’s ear. This is called a tympanic thermometer.

Don’t use a mercury thermometer to take your baby’s temperature. They can easily break and the mercury is difficult and dangerous to clean up. Thermometers which are inserted into dummies and fever strips used on the forehead are not as accurate as digital thermometers.

What can I do for my baby with a fever?

When a baby has a fever, there may be changes in their behaviour, particularly their feeding and sleeping patterns.

  • Offer your baby extra breast or formula feeds. They may be more interested in drinking smaller amounts more often. Older babies can be offered sips of cooled boiled water from a cup or a bottle.
  • If your baby is old enough for solid foods, offer them cooling food such a pureed fruit, yoghurt, custard and fruit gels.
  • Don’t worry too much if your baby isn’t keen on eating solid foods. What’s important with a baby fever is that they are well hydrated and drinking plenty of milk/water.
  • Monitor your baby’s wet nappies as a guide for their hydration. They need to be wetting at least six nappies/24 hours. Look to see how dilute their wee is, ideally it needs to be straw coloured or clear.
  • You could keep a record of your baby’s temperature with a baby temperature chart.
  • Dress your baby in cool clothing and aim for natural fibres such as cotton or bamboo.
  • Don’t overdress your baby. Feel their skin and use their behaviour as a guide for how you need to dress them.
  • Give your baby Paracetamol if they’re miserable. Speak with your doctor or a pharmacist about the correct dose for your baby. Ideally, this will be based on their weight rather than their age. Weight dosing generally gives a more accurate measurement/dose as weights can vary between babies and children of the same age.

When should I take my baby with a fever to see a doctor?

If your baby is aged less than three months and has a fever, you need to have them seen by a doctor. Even if their temperature is in a normal range but they seem unwell, you still need to have them checked.

Young babies have immature temperature regulating mechanisms and they often need monitoring to ensure their temperature does not get too high.

FAQ

My baby has a fever but seems fine, what should I do?

The general advice from health professionals is that treating a baby’s fever will not help their body get rid of the infection ay faster. It will help to reliever any discomfort they may feel because of their fever. Offer your baby extra fluids, monitor their temperature and take them to your doctor if you’re worried or they’re aged three months or younger.

Will my baby have a fever if it’s hot?

No, although they may feel warm and uncomfortable in hot weather, their body temperature shouldn’t go beyond the normal range of 36.5⁰C to 38⁰C.

Written and reviewed by Jane Barry, midwife and child health nurse on 16/04/20.