Fever in babies

My baby has a high fever. Should I worry?


It’s hard not to worry when your baby is crying and her temperature is soaring, but a fever rarely causes any harm. A fever is part of your baby’s defense against an infection.

However, a fever can be more serious if your baby is under six months. It is fairly unusual for young babies to develop a high temperature, so this can be a warning sign that something is wrong. Take your baby to the doctor or emergency department if she has a fever and is under three months old. If your baby is between three months and six months and has a temperature of 39 degrees C or more take her to her doctor. If your baby is older than six months, the height of her temperature or how long it lasts does not always determine how sick she is. Go on your instinct that your baby is unwell and take her to her doctor if you are concerned.

Why might my baby have a fever?

Your baby has a fever because she’s fighting an infection. Sometimes it may not be obvious why your baby has a fever, but common reasons can include:

  • cold
  • flu
  • croup
  • sore throat
  • ear infection
  • urinary tract infections
  • respiratory illness, such as pneumonia
  • a virus that causes a rash, such as roseola, chickenpox or hand, foot and mouth disease

Babies often get fevers after receiving immunizations. Your doctor or pediatrician will give you advice on what to look out for after your baby has had an immunization.

How can I tell my baby has a fever?

You will usually be able to tell if you baby has a fever just by touching her. Her skin will feel very hot. You can feel her brow, her belly, or if she’s younger than three months, feel her chest or back.

If you use a thermometer, her temperature will vary depending where you measure it. Here are the most common places to take a temperature:

Rectal temperature The most accurate way to measure a temperature in a child under five years is by taking a rectal temperature. Clean the thermometer with cool soapy water, cover the silver tip with petroleum jelly, gently insert 2.5cm into the rectum. A fever is anything greater than 38 degrees C when measured rectally.

Under the armpit Under the armpit (also called axillary) is a quicker place to test for a temperature at any age. Simply tuck a thermometer under your baby’s armpit, with her arm down by her side. Your baby may have a fever if the temperature is greater than 37.3 degrees under the armpit.

In the ear Another place to measure temperature on a baby is in the ear (also called tympanic). Be aware though thermometers for the ears are not reliable in babies under two years of age. In children older than two, a fever is anything greater than 38 degrees C when measured in the ear.

In the mouth Oral thermometers should not be used until a child is five years old. A temperature greater than 37.5 degrees C orally (in the mouth) is a fever.

What kind of thermometer should you buy?

You don’t need to buy an expensive thermometer. Most are easy to use and have clear instructions. There are different types you can buy from your pharmacy:
Digital thermometers are probably the best type you can use at home. They are accurate and beep when they are ready. They can be used for measuring temperatures under the arm. You can also check her temperature rectally. For an older child you can also test her temperature orally.
Ear thermometers can be very accurate and only take a second, but they are difficult to use correctly and are not accurate in babies less than two years old. They can also be expensive.
Forehead strips are less accurate as they show the temperature of your baby’s skin, rather than her body. But they are quick and easy to use.
Soother thermometers are less accurate, and, like the forehead strips, you should double check the result with a digital thermometer.

What can I do to treat my baby’s fever?

You should be able to treat your baby’s fever at home provided she is older than three months. Even if you are in hospital you can help treat your baby’s temperature. Here are some ways to keep your baby comfortable and speed her recovery:
Give your baby lots of drinks to make sure she is well hydrated. Offer her regular breastfeeds, or formula milk and extra cooled boiled water.
Let her eat when she feels like it. If she’s doesn’t want much food, try to offer small amounts regularly to keep her energy up.
Let her rest if she wants to, but she doesn’t need to stay in bed if she would rather be up and about.
You don’t need to take off layers of your baby’s clothes, or add extra clothing
Offer your baby infant acetaminophen or ibuprofen if she seems very uncomfortable or upset, but only if she is three months or older. Follow the dosage instructions on the bottle or ask your pharmacist or doctor if you are unsure how much to give your baby. Don’t give both acetaminophen or ibuprofen at the same time. If you have offered one and it hasn’t helped, you could think about giving the other one instead.

How can I tell if my baby’s fever is serious?

If you are worried see your doctor. You should be more cautious if your baby is younger than six months as a feverish illness is more unusual and could be more serious. A baby under three months old should see her doctor on the first day of her fever. Older children should be seen by their doctor after 72 hours of fever, but sooner if you are concerned about a more serious illness.

Additional symptoms that your baby’s fever is something serious include:
Your baby is particularly sleepy or drowsy.
She has not wanted to drink for more than eight hours. Or she’s had less than half of her usual amount to drink over the past 24 hours. This includes breast or bottle feeds for young babies. along with other symptoms, including dry lips, dark yellow urine and fewer wet diapers than usual. These can be signs of dehydration.

What is a febrile convulsion?

Febrile convulsions are seizures that sometimes happen in babies and young children with a high temperature. They are frightening to watch, but are rarely harmful. Although a febrile convulsion may seem likes it’s going on for ages, they usually only last for 20 seconds, and rarely for more than two minutes.

If your baby has a brief febrile seizure for the first time, take her to the emergency room of your local hospital. A doctor can check her and help to confirm the cause of her seizure.

While your baby is having a seizure, don’t restrain her in any way. Just loosen any tight clothing and remove anything in her mouth, such as a soother or food. She won’t swallow her tongue.

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