Caring for your sick baby - fever
My baby has a high temperature. 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 natural defence against an infection.
However, a fever can be more serious if your baby is under six months old. It is fairly unusual for young babies to develop a high temperature, so this can be a warning sign that something is wrong.
See your doctor straight away if your baby is:
- under three months old and has a temperature of 38 degrees C or more
- under six months and has a temperature of 39 degrees C or more
If your baby is older than six months, the height of her temperature or how long it lasts may not always determine how poorly she is. Your instinct that your baby is unwell is just as reliable as measuring her temperature. However, it can be useful to use a thermometer so you know what is normal for your baby.
Why may my baby have a fever?
Your baby has a fever because she’s fighting an infection or illness. Sometimes it may not be obvious why your baby has a fever, but common reasons can include:
- sore throat
- ear infection
- urinary tract infections
- respiratory illness, such as pneumonia or bronchiolitis
- a virus that causes a rash, such as roseola, chickenpox, or hand, foot and mouth disease
Babies often get fevers after receiving immunisations. Your doctor or practice nurse will give you advice on what to look out for after your baby has had an immunisation.
Your baby may also be feverish because she is teething. Find out about the signs of teething.
How can I tell if my baby has a fever?
You will usually be able to tell if your baby has a fever just by touching her. Her skin will feel very hot. You can feel her brow, or if she’s younger than three months, feel her chest or back. Your baby may also have flushed cheeks, and feel clammy or sweaty.
If you want to, you can use a thermometer to give you a better idea of her temperature. Normal body temperature is between 36 degrees C and 37 degrees C, but this can vary by a few points of a degree from child to child. A fever is anything that is high for your baby.
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. Tuck it under your baby’s armpit, with her arm down by her side.
- Ear thermometers can be very accurate and only take a second, but they are difficult to use correctly. They can also be expensive.
- Strip-type thermometers are less accurate as they only show the temperature of your baby’s skin, not her body. It’s therefore best not to use a strip-type thermometer.
What can I do to treat my baby’s fever?
You should be able to treat your baby’s fever at home. Here are some ways to keep your baby comfortable:
- 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.
- If your baby is old enough for solids, let her eat when she feels like it. If she doesn’t want much food, try to offer small amounts regularly to keep up her energy.
- Let her rest if she wants to, but she doesn’t need to stay in bed if she would rather be up and about.
- Dress your baby so that she is as comfortable as possible and leave her head uncovered. Don’t let her get too hot, but if taking off layers leaves her shivering, cover her with a sheet. It’ll be easy to remove if she starts to overheat again. If you’re not sure what’s right, ring your doctor’s surgery for advice.
- Offer your baby infant paracetamol or infant ibuprofen if she seems very uncomfortable or upset. You can give your baby infant paracetamol from two months if she was born after 37 weeks and weighs at least 4kg (9lb). You can give her infant ibuprofen if she is three months or older, and weighs at least 5kg (11lb).
If you decide to give your baby ibuprofen or paracetamol, follow the dosage instructions on the packet, or ask your pharmacist or doctor for advice. Don’t give paracetamol and ibuprofen at the same time. If you have offered one and it hasn’t helped, you could think about giving the other one instead.
You may have heard about a link between paracetamol and babies developing wheezing or asthma. Be assured there is no evidence paracetamol causes these problems. Paracetamol is safe for your baby if you give her the correct dosage.
How can I tell if my baby’s fever is serious?
If your baby has a fever along with other symptoms, this could be a sign of a more serious illness. Symptoms to look out for 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.
- Sunken fontanelles (the soft spots on your baby’s head), along with other symptoms, including dry lips, dark yellow urine, and fewer wet nappies than usual. These can be signs of dehydration.
- Your baby has an unexplained rash.
If you are at all worried about your baby, see your GP. It is best to be especially cautious if your baby is under six months old. Fever in young babies is more unusual and could be serious.
What is a febrile seizure?
Febrile seizures are fits that sometimes happen in babies and young children with a high temperature. They are frightening to watch, but are rarely harmful. Although a febrile seizure may seem as if it’s going on for ages, they usually last for less than five minutes, and rarely for more than 15 minutes.
If your baby has a brief febrile seizure for the first time, take her to the accident and emergency department of your local hospital, or call 999 if you prefer. A doctor can check her and help to confirm the cause of her fit.
If the fit has not stopped after five minutes, call 999 for an ambulance.
If your baby has been previously diagnosed as having febrile seizures, you may not need emergency help. However, it is best to call your GP for advice.
While your baby is having a fit, don’t restrain her in any way. Just loosen any tight clothing and remove anything in her mouth, such as a dummy or food. She won’t swallow her tongue. If she is in a place where she could fall, move her to a soft, safe surface.