It’s hard not to worry when your baby is crying and her temperature is soaring. But remember: 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 severe if your baby is under six months old. It is rather unusual for young babies to develop a high temperature, so this can be a cautionary sign that something is not right.
Basically, you would need to 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.
Causes of fever
Your baby has a fever because she’s fighting an infection or illness. Sometimes it may not be apparent why your baby has a fever, but common reasons can include colds, flu, croup, sore throat, ear infection, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness, such as pneumonia or bronchiolitis, or a virus that causes a rash, such as roseola, chickenpox, or hand, foot and mouth disease. Your baby may also be feverish because she is teething.
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.
How to tell if your 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 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.
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