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How do I know if my baby has a temperature

How do I know if my baby has a temperature



How do I know if my baby has a temperature

How do I know if my baby has a temperature

All mums hate it when their babies get sick and have a temperature. A fever is the body’s natural way of fighting infections, so a temperature isn’t always something to worry about. However, in very tiny babies – under three months old – if your baby has even the slightest temperature, take him or her to the emergency room.


What is a baby’s “normal” temperature?

A “normal” temperature is in the region of 37°C. It’s not unusual for your baby’s temperature to vary from as low as 36°C in the morning, rising to around 37.9°C in the afternoon and evening. This is a normal range and is not a reason for concern – especially if the baby has no other symptoms.


What is a fever?

Bearing in mind what we said in the previous paragraph, your baby could have a fever if his/her under the arm (armpit) temperature is 37.2°C or higher.

Here is a useful table that will guide you on what action to take based on your baby’s temperature.1

Temperature range How we describe the fever What you can do
37.8° – 39°C  Low-grade fevers  It’s good to know, and for now, you don’t need to do anything.  The baby’s immune system will do all the work. 
39° – 40°C  Moderate fevers Still good to know. Only give your baby something if she’s uncomfortable: your baby’s immune system is working. See below for more.
40° – 40.6°C  High fevers These fevers must be treated, and you should get help from a healthcare professional.
40.6°C and above Very high fever Get help urgently from a health care professional.

Remember: from birth to three months old, always take your baby to the doctor if she/he has a fever


How do I take my baby’s temperature?

The most accurate way to take a baby’s temperature is using a digital thermometer which you can buy from the pharmacy and from some large supermarkets.

To take your baby’s temperature, hold her on your lap and put the thermometer under the top of the arm and where it joins her chest: the armpit. The thermometer package instructions will tell you how long you should keep it in place – usually a quarter of a minute (15 seconds). Depending on the manufacturer, the thermometer might beep when it’s time to read the temperature. The digital display will tell you whether your baby has a fever.

Other ways of taking your baby’s temperature

Until your child is 5 years old, the best way to take his/her temperature is under the arm. There are, however, four other ways or places to measure a person’s temperature: on the forehead, in the mouth and ear, as well as in the bottom (rectum).

The last two are not recommended for mums to do at home: you could harm your baby. However, a medical practitioner may, under certain circumstances, use these methods for taking your baby’s temperature but ear temperatures are not accurate until babies are older than six months. Strip thermometers that you hold against the baby’s forehead are also not accurate because they measure the temperature of his/her skin, rather than inside the body.

If you still have your grandmother’s old-fashioned glass thermometer, do not use it. Not only could it break and hurt your baby, but the mercury it contains is highly poisonous. You can no longer buy these thermometers which are not used in hospitals anymore.2


What are the signs that my baby has a fever?

In adults, because they can communicate, we can more easily identify the signs of a fever. This is not so with infants. Probably the first sign that your baby has a temperature is when s/he will not eat and is fussy and irritable. Other indicators that your baby has a temperature include:3

  • The skin feels hot and damp when you touch him/her, especially on the forehead or body
  • The skin is pale and/or has a rash
  • S/he is not as active as usual and seems sleepy and listless
  • The baby pulls or tugs at his/her ear

Babies don’t always cry when they have a fever. Usually, when they cry, they’re in pain and you should get them checked out by a health care practitioner in case they have a sore or infected ear or throat.


What can I do if my baby has a fever?

Remember, we noted earlier that you only need to treat a fever if your baby is uncomfortable, which is probably when her temperature is around 39°C.  Up to this point, the fever is “switching on” her immune system and fighting whatever the infection is.

How to make your baby more comfortable

The first thing to help anyone with a fever, including babies, is to ensure that they are drinking enough fluids. This alone can help to reduce their temperatures. Babies older than six months can drink cold water or cold drinks. However, newborn babies, infants and babies up to six months old should not be given water. Rather, only give your baby extra breast milk or baby formula to keep him/her hydrated unless otherwise advised by your health practitioner.

Two other ways of reducing the baby’s temperature, are by taking off extra clothing – except if s/he is shivering. You can also put your baby into a bath of lukewarm (NOT cold) water to cool her down. If you do not have a bath, sponge her – also with lukewarm water – for about 20 minutes to half an hour.

Do not use surgical spirits or any other alcohol-based rub to cool your baby down. This might make him/her shiver which will make her temperature go up. Also, if s/he breathes in the alcohol, s/he could go into a coma.


When should I take my baby to the doctor or clinic?

We have said throughout this article, that if your baby is less than three months old, you should take her to the doctor whenever she has a mild to moderate temperature. In other words, if her temperature is anything above what is normal for her.

Older babies that develop moderate fevers (39° – 40°C) should probably be taken to the doctor especially if s/he has had a temperature – even with no other symptoms – for a day or two. We have also noted that if your baby is fussy, weak and sleepy, you should get help from a medical professional.

Last but not least, if your baby is dehydrated – not wetting her nappy (diaper), isn’t crying with tears or has a dry mouth, and/or has a rash, won’t feed and/or is vomiting, please consult your doctor.4


What medicine can I give my baby?

The over-the-counter medicines recommended for treating mild to moderate pain and fever are ibuprofen and paracetamol. They cannot be given together and must always be given to babies under medical supervision. The paracetamol dosage you can give your baby is based on his or her weight and you will find more information here.

Never give your baby aspirin because it has been linked to Reye syndrome, a rare and serious brain disease.5

If your health care professional has previously prescribed paracetamol for your baby, and her temperature does not drop within an hour of giving her the correct dose, you should take her to the doctor.


Disclaimer: The information on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Contact a health care provider if you have questions about your health.


  1. Fever (F) [Online] Available from < / >  17/07/2022
  2. How to take your baby’s temperature. National Health Service UK [online] Available from < > 17/07/2022
  3. How to take your baby’s temperature. National Health Service UK [online] Available from < > 17/07/2022
  4. Schmitt, B.,  2021. Fever (Age 0-5).  Pediatric Patient Education American Academy of Pediatrics [Online] Available from <> 12/07/2022
  5. Reye’s syndrome National Health Service UK [Online] Available from <> 13/07/2022

Please note the content on this website is not intended to be a substitute to a medical professional consultation.