Understanding fever in babies and children

Children, Children & Family



How to deal with fever in babies and children

A raised temperature in your little one needn’t be terrifying – follow our handy tips and advice on how to cope with fevers in babies and children

A soaring temperature in a child can worry even the most experienced of parents, and for new parents dealing with it for the first time a baby fever can cause panic and enormous stress. However, it’s important to remember that fever itself rarely causes harm, and can actually be a good thing!

What is a fever?

A fever can be a symptom of many illnesses, and in fact is one of the helpful ways in which your baby fights infection – raising the body’s internal temperature can make it harder for microbes to survive.

In babies under three months old, an oral temperature that exceeds 37.4°C indicates a fever and you should visit the doctor. In babies between three months and 36 months, an oral temperature above 38.5°C means you need to seek advice from a health professional. A child with a fever might feel hot when you touch them (particularly on their forehead, back, or stomach), they might be sweaty or clammy, or they could have red cheeks.

Since the definition of fever changes with the child’s age, finding a thermometer that can relate the temperature to the child’s age will help you understand the reading better.

The definition of a fever can differ with the child’s age

Why your baby might have a temperature

It can be difficult to tell what’s causing your baby’s fever, particularly for inexperienced parents. It could be something as simple as overheating due to too much bedding or clothing, or a common reaction to childhood vaccinations. However, fevers are normally a symptom of the body’s response to an infection, either viral or bacterial.

Viral fevers are caused by your baby’s body fighting off a virus, such as the common cold or chickenpox. Chills are a common first sign of a viral fever; other symptoms will depend on the type of virus your child has caught, e.g. cough, runny nose. Viral fevers are usually harmless and last for around three days. They are typically treated by managing the symptoms.

Fevers in children can be caused by common viruses such as chickenpox

Bacterial fevers are caused by your baby fighting a bacterial infection, like a urinary tract infection. They are less common than viral fevers, tend to last longer, and can lead to a more serious illness if they are not treated. Bacterial fevers can be treated with antibiotics.

Common conditions that can cause fevers include the below. Although remember, if you are at all worried, don’t hesitate to seek expert medical advice.

  • Upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs)
  • Flu
  • Ear infections
  • Roseola – a virus that causes a temperature and rash
  • Tonsillitis
  • Kidney or urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • Common childhood illnesses such as chickenpox and whooping cough

Precise temperature monitoring

The first thing to do when you think your child has a fever is to check their temperature. ‘Normal’ temperatures for children can vary, and every child can be different, so it is vital to know what is normal for your own baby. Taking their temperature over a few days when they’re healthy can be worthwhile, so you have a reliable measure.

Ideally, to get an accurate reading with a sick baby, you should use a digital thermometer. Braun’s range of digital thermometers will help you interpret your child’s temperature confidently. Ear thermometers, such as ThermoScan® 7, are trusted by doctors and Braun’s ThermoScan® Technology is the No. 1 brand of choice among healthcare professionals*.

Precise temperature monitoring with Braun ThermoScan 7

When taking a child’s temperature, don’t forget that some factors can affect the reading. If they have been in a warm bath for example, or wrapped in a blanket, the reading could be artificially high. If this is the case, allow the child to cool down slightly and then take another temperature reading.

Levels of fever

If you are at all worried, don’t hesitate to seek expert medical advice. Contact your GP or health visitor urgently if your child:

  • An oral temperature that exceeds 37.4°C in babies under three months old
  • An oral temperature above 38.5 °C in babies between 3 and 36 months
  • Shows other signs of being unwell such as persistent vomiting, refusal to feed, floppiness, or drowsiness
If you are at all worried, don’t hesitate to seek expert medical advice.

How to treat a fever

There are a few simple steps to treating fever in a sick baby:

  • Encourage them to drink regular fluids – water is best for hydration. If your baby is still breastfeeding, offer them regular feeds
  • Keep an eye out for signs of dehydration such as sunken eyes, fewer wet nappies and a lack of tears
  • Make sure your child is lightly dressed (appropriately for the temperature of the room). Don’t wrap up a child with fever as it could cause them to overheat. Try to keep the room aired with fresh air but make sure the child isn’t directly in a draught
  • Monitor their fever closely – check their temperature regularly with an accurate thermometer and encourage them to rest as much as possible
  • In babies above 3 months of age and with a fever less than 39°C (102°F) it is rarely necessary to give medicine, as there is often little discomfort. However, for fevers above this temperature, you can give your child the appropriate dose of ibuprofen or paracetamol – always follow the instructions on the bottle and/or your GP’s guidelines
  • Seek medical advice if your baby’s fever gets worse or shows no sign of improvement after two to three days
The appropriate dose of ibuprofen or paracetamol can bring down a fever, but always follow the instructions on the bottle

*Ipsos, online study among n=802 GPs and Pediatricians in four European markets (n=200 each in GE, UK, FR, NL), fielded May-June 2012