A first time parent’s guide to baby fever management

Worried your baby has a fever and don’t know what to do? Read on for the first time parent’s guide to baby fever management.

It is common for a baby to have a high temperature from time to time, and there are many things that can cause it. A fever is our body’s natural response to fighting off infections such as coughs and colds. It can also be caused by common illnesses such as:

  • Throat infections
  • Ear infections
  • Tonsillitis
  • Chickenpox
  • Whooping cough

Some babies can even develop a fever after having a vaccination. If your baby has a high temperature after a vaccination, it should go away by itself quite quickly, but if you are worried speak to your doctor or health visitor.

What is a high temperature for a baby?

So what is a high temperature for a baby, and how can you tell if your baby has one? A normal temperature for babies is around 36.4C, but this can vary a little. If your baby has a temperature of 38C or more it is considered to be high and could be a fever.

Signs your baby has a high temperature can include:

  • They feel hotter than usual when you touch their forehead, back or tummy
  • They feel clammy or sweaty
  • Their cheeks are flushed
  • They don’t seem right in themselves
  • They are tired and irritable 
  • Their glands are swollen

A good way to check whether your baby’s temperature is raised is to feel the back of their neck. If it feels hot then it’s a good idea to check their temperature with a thermometer.

How can you check the temperature of your baby?

If you are concerned your baby has a high temperature, then you need to check it using a thermometer. The best type to use are digital thermometers as they give a quick and accurate reading. You can buy these online or from pharmacies and large supermarkets.

To check your baby’s temperature, hold them safely and comfortably on your lap and gently place the thermometer in their armpit. Hold their arm against their body to keep the thermometer in place for as long as the instructions for your thermometer state. Then read the temperature on the display.

If you have followed the manufacturer’s instructions for your thermometer the reading should be accurate, but there a few things that can potentially affect the reading. So if your child has just had a bath, is wrapped up in a blanket, is in a warm room, or has just been active it is wise to let them cool down for a few minutes before taking their temperature.

What type of thermometer should you use for your baby?

As we have already mentioned, digital thermometers are considered to be the most accurate when it comes to taking your baby’s temperature. But they aren’t the only type of thermometer available.

You may have an ear thermometer, which takes a reading from your ear. These give quick results but can easily be inaccurate if you don’t place them in the ear correctly – something that can easily happen with a small baby.

Another commonly used thermometer in the home is a strip thermometer which you hold against your forehead. However, these aren’t very accurate as they take the temperature of your skin, rather than your body.

It’s not recommended to use the old-fashioned glass thermometers, if you still have one in your home, as they contain mercury and can break, resulting in tiny splinters of glass and leaking poisonous mercury.

What should you do if your baby has a high temperature?

If your baby has a high temperature, you can usually care for them yourself at home. It should pass within three or four days. In the meantime, make sure they drink lots of fluids and look out for signs of dehydration.

If your baby is weaned, offer them food but don’t force them to eat if they refuse it. And dress them as usual, but opt for cotton clothing to help their skin to breathe.

If your baby is restless or in obvious discomfort, you may want to try giving them baby ibuprofen or paracetamol to help reduce the fever. Just make sure you follow the dosage instructions on the manufacturer’s packaging.

And finally, it is a good idea to keep a note of their temperature when you take it, so you can see whether they are getting better or not. This can also help doctors if your baby needs medical treatment.

When to get help for your baby

You should always get help for your baby if they are under three months old and their temperature is 38C or higher, or they are three to six months old and their temperature is 39C or higher.

It’s also important to check for rashes as they can indicate an underlying illness causing the fever. Here are some potential causes of a rash:

  • If they have pinkish-red spots, patches or bumps that start on their torso and spread to their face, neck and arms it could be roseola. This is not usually serious and should pass in a week. 
  • If their skin feels rough or has a pink or red rash a couple of days after their fever starts, they could have scarlet fever. This is a common illness that is easily treated with antibiotics, so speak to your doctor if you think your baby may have it. 
  • A fever that is accompanied by a rash that doesn’t go away when pressed could indicate sepsis. You should always seek urgent medical attention if you suspect your baby may have sepsis. 
  • If your baby has a rash that doesn’t disappear when you press a glass against it, it could be a sign of meningitis. Again, get medical treatment quickly if you suspect this is the case.

Above all, please remember that you know your child best, and if you think something might be wrong it is always better to err on the side of caution and seek medical help.