Your child may complain of feeling cold or shivery at the beginning of a fever but will feel hot to the touch. They may later say that they are feeling hot and may be sweaty and flushed.
If your baby is under three months old and has a fever of 38°C or higher, then you need to seek medical attention as soon as possible. For babies between 3 to 6 months old, contact your doctor if their temperature is above 39°C.
If you think your baby has a high temperature, it's best to check their temperature with a thermometer. Signs that your little one may have a high temperature include if they feel hotter than usual on their forehead, back or stomach, are sweaty or clammy or have flushed cheeks.
How Do I Check My Baby's Temperature?
Taking your baby’s temperature should ideally be done with a digital thermometer, as they are fast and accurate. Other types of thermometers include:
- Ear thermometers allow you to take a temperature from the ear. They are quick but may be expensive, and may be inaccurate if not correctly used with small babies.
- Strip thermometers placed on the forehead are not recommended as they will only take the skin temperature, rather than body temperature.
- Glass thermometers containing mercury are also not recommended, as they can break, causing dangerous splinters and exposure to poisonous mercury. They are no longer used and you cannot buy them from shops.
Always use a digital thermometer under the armpit for children under 5 years of age. Follow the instructions provided with the thermometer for the most accurate results. To ensure that you don’t get a misleading reading, allow time for your child to cool down for a few minutes after anything that may increase their temperature, (but don't let them get cold), such as:
- Being wrapped tightly in a blanket or a lot of clothing
- Being in a very warm room
- Being very active
- Having just had a warm bath
When is my baby's temperature too high?
Visit your GP or call 111 immediately if your child is:
- 0 to 3 months and their temperature is 38°C or above or you think they have a high temperature.
- 3 months to 6 months and their temperature is 39°C or above or you think they have a high temperature.
- They have any of the following:
- temperature over 38°C for longer than 5 days
- a temperature that does not come down with medicine
- refuse to eat and/or drink, or they are not their usual self and you are worried
- dehydrated (dry nappies, sunken eyes and no tears when crying)
- other signs of an illness such as a rash as well as a high temperature
- has a high temperature that does not come down with paracetamol
Call 999 if your child:
- Has a stiff neck
- A rash that doesn’t fade when you press a glass against it
- Is bothered by light
- Has a fit (febrile seizure) for the first time
- Has unusually cold hands and feet, blue/pale/blotchy complexion
- Finds it hard to breathe and sucks their stomach in under their ribs
- Has an unusual cry or is not behaving as they usually do
How often should I check my child in the night?
Check on your baby regularly, at least 2-3 times in the night if they have a fever, to make sure they are not developing a serious infection.
Tips for managing your child's fever
When your little one has a fever, try to keep them calm, reassured and comfortable.
- Give them plenty of fluids and look out for signs of dehydration. Fever may cause dehydration from loss of fluids through sweating, and the body trying to cool itself. . If you’re using formula or breastfeeding, give small amounts more often than usual.
- Dress your child appropriately. Make sure that your little one is wearing only the clothes necessary to keep them warm and comfortable and avoid over-wrapping them or underdressing them.
- Cool down a warm room. It may help to cool an over-warm room by opening a window. Avoid using cold fans or air conditioning because over-cooling your child tends to narrow the blood vessels under the skin, trapping heat in the deeper parts of their body.
- Keep them at home and check on them regularly (including throughout the night).
- Give them food if they want it. They may not have an appetite with a fever, but if they do, then offer them some food.
If your child appears distressed, try giving medicine to reduce a fever. If your child is uncomfortable, paracetamol or ibuprofen may help to reduce their fever. Nurofen for Children contains ibuprofen and is suitable for little ones from three months old and weighing over 5kg. The oral suspension provides up to 8 hours fever relief and comes in both orange and strawberry flavours.
Remember to trust your instincts
Having a baby or a child with a high temperature can be stressful and although fever is the body’s way of fighting infection, remember that a child’s temperature can easily rise slightly with things like a hot bath, vigorous activity or wearing too much clothing. Even teething can increase a child’s temperature by 0.5°C. Trust your instincts when it comes to your little one.
If they are not themselves, feel hotter than usual and look unwell, it’s advisable to check their temperature. A fever usually returns to normal within 3 to 4 days, but in the meantime keep your baby calm and comfortable to ease their symptoms.
If you’re worried, be sure to call your doctor.