Fever in Babies and Newborns

Fever in newborns, babies and children of all ages is actually quite common. But as a parent, you might wonder when to worry about a fever in babies or what it could indicate. And, of course, you’re likely looking for ways to comfort and support your little one. Keep reading to learn about high temperatures in babies and newborns, what’s a ‘normal’ temperature, what to do when your baby has a fever and more.

What Is a Fever?

A fever is when someone has a high temperature, which is the body’s natural response when fighting an infection, such as a cold. It’s part of the parenting journey when it comes to common childhood illnesses, is typically nothing to worry about and usually goes away within three to four days or sooner.

What Is a Normal Baby and Newborn Temperature?

A ‘normal’ temperature will vary from person to person, newborn to newborn and baby to baby. However, experts consider a temperature between 35.5 and 37.5 degrees Celsius to be normal. For a newborn or baby, a temperature at or over 38 degrees Celsius is considered high, and a fever.

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Baby and Newborn Temperature Chart

For a visual way to remember the range of a normal temperature and a fever for babies and newborns, have a look at the chart below. Just remember that a normal temperature range for babies and newborns can vary from child to child.

 

 

Newborn and Baby Temperature Range
Normal Temperature35.5 – 37.5 °C
High Temperature (Fever)38+ °C

 

So, if your newborn has a fever, that’s because they have a temperature at or over 38 degrees Celsius. The same is true for babies and older children with a high temperature.

Signs of a Fever in Babies and Newborns

The main sign or symptom of a fever in babies and newborns is a high temperature. However, there are some physical symptoms that you might notice as well:

  • Feeling hotter than usual to the touch, typically on the forehead, back or stomach

  • Feeling sweaty or clammy to the touch

  • Looking flushed with red cheeks.

Additionally, your baby might also appear a bit fussy or distressed. All of these symptoms are normal in babies or newborns with a fever. But it’s important to monitor your child, as symptoms worsening could warrant a call to your doctor or a trip to the hospital. Keep reading for more advice on when to call your doctor when your baby has a fever.

What Causes Fever in Babies and Newborns?

If your baby or newborn has a fever over 38 degrees Celsius, it likely means their body is likely fighting an infection. It’s a natural, normal response in older children and adults, too. To better understand what infection might be causing your baby’s fever, consider other symptoms:

  • Viral infections are more common than bacterial infections and may cause symptoms like a runny nose, coughing or wheezing, a sore or red throat, red eyes and diarrhoea.

  • Bacterial infections, such as an ear infection or meningitis, aren’t as common and may require antibiotics as a treatment. Symptoms will differ from infection to infection, so contact your doctor if you have any concerns or see more alarming symptoms like pale skin, trouble breathing, change in behaviour, a stiff neck, cold limbs, etc.

Other Conditions Related to Fever in Babies and Newborns

In addition to an infection, it’s fairly common for babies, newborns, older children and adults alike to develop a fever after receiving vaccinations. Luckily, a fever caused by a routine vaccination usually doesn’t last as long, going away in a matter of hours or up to 48 hours.

How to Take Your Baby’s Temperature

How to tell if your baby or newborn has a fever is relatively easy; you just need to take their temperature. Here’s a rough guide on how to take the temperature of a newborn and baby:

  • Newborns and babies. If your baby is less than 1 month (about 4 weeks) old, you’ll need to take their temperature by placing a digital thermometer under their armpit.

  • Babies over 1 month. For babies older than 1 month, you can either take their temperature under the armpit like with a newborn or use a tympanic thermometer, which is placed in the ear.

But getting a wriggly baby to stay still can be a challenge, so here are a few more tips on how to take your baby’s temperature:

  • Find a good position. Hold your baby in a comfortable position on your lap or on your knee.

  • Keep your baby’s arm snug. Place the thermometer under their armpit and gently (but firmly) hold their arm in place.

  • Follow the instructions. Check the thermometer manufacturer’s instructions for how long to wait, but you’ll typically need to keep your baby still and comfy for about 15 seconds.

  • Keep your baby distracted. Talk to them, smile at them or gently rub your finger on their cheek to keep them distracted and content.

 

 

TIP

The armpit method is the best for getting the most accurate reading. Once your child is over the age of 5, you can use a digital thermometer under the tongue. Other types of thermometers, such as strips or those pointed at the forehead, don’t always give an accurate reading, as they measure surface temperature rather than that of the body. 

Avoid using old-fashioned glass thermometers with mercury, which are no longer in circulation as they pose a hazard. 

Keep a thermometer in your baby’s first aid kit and watch the video below to learn what else to have on hand.

What to Do if Your Baby Has a Fever

What to do when your baby or newborn has a fever over 38 degrees Celsius depends a bit on their age. The younger your child is, the more worrisome a fever is. So, call 111 or your GP surgery if

  • your newborn is under 3 months and has a temperature at or over 38 degrees Celsius (or you suspect they might have a fever)

  • your baby is 3 to 6 months old and has a temperature at or over 39 degrees Celsius (or you suspect they have a high fever).

A high temperature in newborns and younger babies can cause serious complications, so it’s important that you seek medical attention in the two cases above. For babies 6 months or older, a fever will most likely go away on its own after a few days without any complications. Still, it’s best to keep an eye on your child and monitor their condition.

Here’s a summary of what to do and what not to do if your baby or newborn has a fever:

 

 

Fever in Babies and Newborns
What to doWhat NOT to do
  • Call 111 or your GP’s surgery if your baby is under 3 months and has a fever at or above 38 degrees Celsius or is between 3 and 6 months and has a temperature at or above 39 degrees Celsius.
  • Keep your baby at home and watch them carefully, both throughout the day and at night
  • Give your little one fluids, and look out for signs of dehydration (dry mouth, sunken eyes, peeing less)
  • Offer food, but don’t worry if they don’t feel like eating
  • Call your doctor for medical advice or if you have questions or concerns
  • Ask your doctor if you should administer paracetamol or ibuprofen.
  • DON’T mix paracetamol and ibuprofen unless instructed by your GP
  • DON’T give your child paracetamol if they’re under 2 months
  • DON’T give your child ibuprofen if they’re under 3 months and 5 kilograms
  • DON’T give your child aspirin if they're under 16 years old
  • DON’T give a child with asthma any medication without consulting your GP
  • There’s no need to undress your child, give them a sponge bath or dress them in more clothes or bedding – this could stop the fever from fighting the infection or make it worse.

 

As a parent, you want to make sure your baby feels comfortable and soothed when they have a fever, so you might wonder how to dress a baby with a fever at night or whether you should strip them of clothing when they have a temperature. As mentioned above in the ‘What NOT to do’ section, overdressing, underdressing and/or bathing a baby with a fever isn’t necessary. Warming your baby up or cooling them down might impact the fever’s ability to fight the infection and could cause your little one to feel cold and shiver.

Medicine to Reduce Your Baby’s Fever

Medicine like paracetamol or ibuprofen can help bring a baby’s fever down if they’re feeling uncomfortable. However, when giving your child medicine, it’s important to always consult with your GP. A few important reminders from above include:

  • DON’T mix paracetamol and ibuprofen unless instructed by your GP

  • DON’T give your child paracetamol if they’re under 2 months old

  • DON’T give your child ibuprofen if they’re under 3 months old and weigh less than 5 kilograms

  • DON'T give your child aspirin if they're under 16 years old

  • DON’T give a child with asthma any medication without consulting your GP.

If your baby has a fever but isn’t showing signs of feeling unwell, then you can let the fever run its course, as it’s fighting an infection. But if your little one is uncomfortable, talk to your GP and listen to their instructions on if and when to administer medication, plus how much and for how long.

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When to Call Your Doctor

Call your GP if you have any questions or concerns regarding your baby’s fever. Also, consult them if you want to offer your child any fever-reducing medication, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.

You’ll also want to call your doctor and/or 111 if your baby shows symptoms that indicate a serious condition, such as if your child

  • is having a hard time breathing

  • shows signs of dehydration, including dry lips, mouth or tongue, sunken eyes and not peeing for 12 hours or more

  • appears more drowsy or irritable than usual, especially if this behaviour continues even as the fever comes down

  • is shivering a lot or mentions or shows signs of muscle pain

  • currently has chickenpox and appears to be getting worse

  • has limb, joint or eye swelling

  • can’t stand up due to pain

  • experiences no pain relief despite taking medication

  • Is 3-6 months of age with a temperature of 39°C / 102.2°F or above (but fever is common in babies up to 2 days after they receive vaccinations)

  • has had a fever of 38 degrees Celsius or above for more than five days

  • seems to just be getting worse and/or you feel worried for any reason

Call 999 and head to the nearest hospital emergency department if your baby

  • appears pale and feels abnormally cold to touch, especially on the hands and feet

  • has a blue tint to their lips

  • is experiencing severe difficulty when breathing or appears breathless when talking or eating/drinking

  • starts to have a fit or seizure

  • shows extremes in behaviour, such as crying inconsolably, being very agitated, appearing confused or is hard to wake when sleeping

  • has a rash that doesn’t pass the ‘Glass Test’ (doesn’t disappear with pressure from a glass)

  • is under 3 months of age with a temperature of or above 38 degrees Celsius or from 3 to 6 months old with a temperature of or above 39 degrees Celsius (unless the fever developed within 48 hours following vaccinations and didn’t accompany any other serious symptoms as outlined above).

Febrile Convulsions

Though rare, a child could experience a febrile convulsion or fit (also known as a febrile seizure) with a high temperature. Seeing your child experience a seizure can be very scary, but know that it’s not typically serious. However, it’s always important to get medical help whenever your child has a seizure of any kind.

Febrile seizures/convulsions/fits usually affect children between 6 months and 6 years, last two to three minutes and may accompany the following symptoms:

  • Twitching, shaking or jerking movements accompanied by stiffness

  • Falling unconscious

  • Peeing or vomiting

  • Not responding when talking to them

  • Feeling disoriented or drowsy afterwards.

If your child experiences a febrile seizure, time the fit and ensure they’re safe without moving them. When finished, comfort your child and call your GP.

Only call 999 or take them to A&E if it’s their very first seizure, the fit lasted more than five minutes or they have another seizure within 24 hours. You’ll also want to treat the seizure as an emergency if your child is having a difficult time breathing or appears more drowsy than usual for more than an hour after the fit finished or if, while experiencing the seizure, only one side of their baby was stiff and twitching.

FAQS AT A GLANCE

A normal temperature range is typically between 35.5 and 37.5 degrees Celsius, though this can vary from child to child. Any temperature at or over 38 degrees Celsius is considered a fever in babies and newborns.

The Bottom Line

When your baby or newborn has a fever, it’s normal to be worried or concerned about a high temperature. But find some solace in knowing that fevers are the body’s natural response to fighting an infection and usually go away on their own after a few days. Of course, call your GP with any questions or concerns (and before giving your little one any medication). You’ll also want to be extra cautious with fever in newborns under 3 months old and babies from 3 to 6 months old (call 111 and your GP’s surgery).

Remember that babies tend to get sick, and fever can be a common experience for children. Keep an eye on your little one, help them feel comfortable, embrace any extra snuggles and consult your doctor if symptoms worsen. Before you know it, your baby will be back up and wriggling around!

Don’t forget to earn a little extra cash for all your Pampers nappies and wipes purchases by downloading the Pampers Club app.

How We Wrote This Article The information in this article is based on expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

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