What is a normal temperature?
High fevers and temperatures are our body's way of fighting infection. But it's important to keep your eye on your baby's temperature, just to make sure that it's within a range that's considered safe. The following is a guide, to give you an idea about the range of possible body temperatures your baby may have, what they can mean and what you may be able to do. Be aware that these are not strict rules and if your baby seems very unwell, or is not responding to your actions (or appears very unwell, even though their temperature is low), you should seek medical attention. In many situation parents really do know best, so if your baby is behaving in a manner that's different to normal, it's best to seek medical advice and attention.
If you try some measures to lower your baby's temperature, take care not to lower it too quickly. For example, do not place your baby into a cold bath, as this can cause them to shiver. Shivering raises the baby's core body temperature. If your baby is very young, they may not have the physical capability to shiver, but instead may 'shut-down', becoming drowsy and not interested in feeding. You can read more on newborn baby's temperature regulation here.
When taking your baby's temperature, they may have a:
It is normal for a baby (or child or adult) to have a body temperature of about 36 to 37o Celsius (or about 96.8 to 98.6o Fahrenheit). Lower than 36o Celsius (or 96.8o Fahrenheit) means that your baby needs to be 'warmed up'.
A baby is said to have a 'low grade' temperature if it is between 37 to 37.5o Celsius (or 98.6 to 99.5o Fahrenheit). This is not regarded as a fever, but may be caused by your baby being overheated, overdressed, having too many (or heavy) bedclothes on, being over-wrapped, or being in a hot car, particularly in warm weather.
If your baby has a low-grade temperature (and there are no other physical signs of a cold or an infection), then it is likely that they will respond to having some clothes or bedding taken off. Unwrap them, and/or take off any heavy or thick clothing, only place a sheet or light cover over them when sleeping. If their temperature comes down, then nothing else required. If it is still slightly elevated, strip them down to their singlet and a nappy and cover them with a light sheet (depending on the weather).
A baby is said to have an 'elevated temperature' if it is about 37.5 to 38o Celsius (or 99.5 to 100.4o Fahrenheit). This may be caused by the baby being mildly unwell, or as a side effect from routine immunisation (often making the baby irritable). This may not require any medications to bring their temperature down (unless the temperature continues to rise). You can try sponging them down with tepid to lukewarm water, or bathing them in a tepid bath. Again, keep clothing and bedding light and to a minimum.
A baby is said to have a 'fever' if it increases to above 38 to 38.5o Celsius (or 100.4 to 101.3o Fahrenheit). This may indicate an infection or viral illness, and will normally be accompanied by other physical symptoms. Babies with a fever will usually need some form of medication (such as infant paracetamol) to help bring down their temperature (follow the recommended dosages). You may want to have them checked by your doctor, (when convenient) to rule out the need for any further treatments.
Many parents will keep some infant paracetamol handy in the house, or take some with them when on holidays. It is amazing how quickly babies will develop a fever (invariably at inconvenient hours). Administering paracetamol to young babies can be a bit tricky. You will usually be provided with a dropper, or you may need to use a measured spoon or medicine cup, or use a small syringe (purchased from the chemist). Often administering it into the side of their mouth can make it easier.
A very high temperature.
A baby is said to have a 'very high temperature' if it is 38.5 to 39o Celsius (or 101.3 to 102.2o Fahrenheit). If your baby has a very high temperature, they will definitely need medication (such as infant paracetamol) to reduce their temperature. While you wait for the medication to take effect, strip your baby down, and possibly give them a tepid bath. If there is no improvement after an hour or so, you should seek medical attention.
Extremely high temperature.
A baby is said to have an extremely high temperature if it is between 39 and 40o Celsius (or 102.2 to 104o Fahrenheit). If your baby has a temperature that is this high, they need infant paracetamol and urgent medical attention. They may be in danger of experiencing a 'fit' or a 'febrile convulsion'.
If you are concerned at all, it is always best to see your local doctor. If your baby has a high temperature and the medication is not lowering it, contact your doctor, or if after hours phone a Children's hospital for advice. If you are concerned because your baby will not take the paracetamol (spitting it out) or they seem to vomit it up (within 30 minutes of taking it), seek advice about giving further doses, or whether to look at obtaining an alternative, such as a prescription for paracetamol suppositories.
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