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Dr Anna Maw
Consultant pediatrician at Cambridge University NHS Trust in the UK. A child doctor specializing in brain development and neurology. She has three children.
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Fever and illness

Baby fever & taking temperatures

A fever is an abnormally high body temperature and is usually a sign that the body is fighting an infection. It's important to learn how to take your baby’s temperature accurately, what’s normal and what’s not, and what to do next. 
Video Tutorial
In Short
Digital ear thermometers are the most quick and accurate way of taking your child's temperature.

Forehead thermometers are easier but less accurate.

What’s normal and what’s not?

See your doctor if your baby’s temperature is:

  • Over 38 degrees for a child under 3 months
  • Over 39 degrees for a child between 3-6 months
  • Over 40 degrees for a child of any age
  • Under 36 degrees – seek medical help immediately
  • Under 35 degrees is hypothermia – call an ambulance
  • Has a non-blanching rash.
How do I take my baby’s temperature?

Digital ear thermometers are the most quick and accurate way to check your baby’s temperature.

Forehead thermometers are easier to use on a wriggling or upset baby, but they may be less accurate.

When should I worry if my baby has a fever/ low temperature?

If, as well as an abnormally high or low temperature, there are any signs of a rash that you can’t explain (especially if it’s flat and purple and doesn’t fade when you roll a glass over it – a non-blanching rash), call an ambulance immediately as this could indicate meningitis.

Meningococcal meningitis can also cause your baby’s temperature to drop rapidly, and this can be a sign of sepsis or blood poisoning.

An abnormally low temperature should always be checked out by a doctor whether a rash is present or not.

If your baby has a fever / low temperature and is having trouble breathing, seek medical help immediately or call an ambulance.

If the fever is accompanied by other symptoms such as loss of appetite, a cough, earache, vomiting, diarrhoea or trouble sleeping, see your doctor.

It’s important to follow your instincts. If you’re worried, get medical help straight away.

What’s a ‘normal’ fever?

If your baby is over 3 months old and is feeding/ drinking well, there’s no reason to worry unless the fever is very high (as outlined above) or lasts longer than 24 hours.

Some babies get a mild fever in reaction to a vaccination, which is normal – it might even occur a few days after your baby has had her jab. The nurse vaccinating your baby should advise you on what to look out for and how to treat common symptoms. Remember, though, that you might not be able to give your baby medicine as it depends on her age (see below).

Babies with older siblings who are suffering from a cold may catch it too, and as a result feel hotter than normal – if he’s also snotty and grumpy, chances are he’s under the weather.

If there’s no obvious reason for a fever, especially if your baby is very young, seek medical help immediately.

Can I give my baby medicine for a fever?

If your baby has a very high fever and is old enough, you can give her the appropriate dose of infant paracetamol or ibuprofen. Follow the instructions on the bottle and never exceed the stated dose.

Although the medicine will bring your baby’s temperature down, there might be an underlying problem that it’s simply masking. It’s best to see your doctor straight away to check it’s nothing serious.

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This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.