KidsZone • London

Friday 25th August 2006

When Your Baby has a Fever...

When your baby is irritable and crying it is hard not to mistake this bad temperament as a tantrum or overtiredness. It is essential to ensure that your child is not running a high temperature and falling ill. A normal temperature is between 36-36.8ºC (96.8-98.24ºF). Temperature of 38°C (100.4°F) or above is considered high and is labelled as a fever in children. To find out if your child has a fever, place a thermometer under your child's armpit or use a special ear thermometer.

Common Occurrences of Fever

A high temperature can occur if a young child (especially newborn) is overdressed in a hot environment, because they can't regulate their own body temperature. Teething may also cause a slight rise in body temperature. Babies and children can sometimes get a fever within 48 hours of being immunised.


  • Most symptoms of a fever in young children can be dealt with at home with infant paracetamol.
  • A high fever may indicate an infection and may need to be treated with antibiotics.
  • If the child is unusually sleepy, won't take fluids or has other worrying symptoms, such as an unusual rash, headache, neck stiffness or difficulty breathing, see your GP or take your child to hospital immediately.

Febrile convulsions are fits (seizures) that sometimes happen in children (between 6 months and 6 years) who have a high temperature. These come about as a result of any illness that causes a high temperature, over 39C (102F) and can be worrying for parents because they appear similar to an epileptic fit.  Seek medical advice immediately, if the fit goes on for more than 4- 5 minutes.

How should I take my child's temperature?

Do not use mercury thermometers. A digital thermometer is much safer. Mercury is an environmental toxin, and you don't want to risk exposing it to your family. If you have a mercury thermometer at home, you should remove it and use a digital thermometer instead.

  • Don't dress your baby or child up too tightly before taking the temperature.
  • Never leave your child alone while taking his or her temperature.

Read the thermometer’s instructions to see if you have an oral or rectal thermometer. Be sure you use the thermometer correctly.

If you're taking your child's temperature rectally, coat the tip of the thermometer with Vaseline and insert it half an inch into the rectum. Hold the thermometer still and do not let go. When the thermometer beeps, remove it and check the digital reading.

If you're taking your child's temperature orally, place the end of the thermometer under the tongue and leave it there until the thermometer beeps. Remove the thermometer and check the digital reading.
After you are done using the thermometer, wash it in cool, soapy water. 

When should I try to lower my child's fever?

Fevers are a sign that the body is fighting an infection. The main reason to treat your child is to make him or her feel better. When your child is achy and fussy, you may want to give him or her some medicine.

How to lower the fever

To prevent dehydration (not enough fluid in the body) ensure your child consumes drinks frequently, which will also help the body to cool itself.

  • Keep your child still and quiet.
  • Keep the room temperature at about 70°F to 74°F.
  • Dress your child in light cotton pyjamas so that body heat can escape.
  • If your child becomes cold, put on an extra blanket but remove it when the chills stop.

Will a bath help lower my child's fever?

Used together, paracetamol and a lukewarm bath may help lower a fever. Give the paracetamol before the bath. If the bath is given alone, your child may start shivering as the body tries to raise its temperature again. This may make your child feel worse.
Do not use cold water for baths.

The risk of aspirin

In rare cases aspirin can cause Reye's syndrome in children who have the flu or the chickenpox. Reye's syndrome is a serious illness that can lead to death. Because it may be hard to tell if your child has one of these infections, it's best not to use aspirin.

If you do suspect that your child is suffering from a fever and is unsure about what to do contact your local GP for advice.


written by Siobhan Tattan
(KidsZone • London)