Fevers and Taking Your Baby’s Temperature

One of the scarier things that new parents face is a child or infant with a fever. However, it is likely that at some point your child will come down with a fever and it’s important for you to know how to take an accurate temperature, how to comfort your child, and when to call your child’s healthcare provider.

How do I take the temperature?

There are many ways to take a child’s temperature. Talk to your child’s health care provider about their preferred method.

  • Orally – in their mouth with a standard multi-use thermometer. Pacifier-shaped thermometers for infants are now available in many stores. These are not always 100% accurate, but they can be a convenient screening tool if you suspect a temperature.
  • Axillary – under their armpit with a standard multi-use thermometer
  • Tympanic – in their ear with an infrared tympanic thermometer. (Never stick a standard thermometer in your infant’s ear!)  Not recommended for infants under age six months. These are a little finicky and may give inaccurate readings if your child has a lot of wax in their ear.
  • Temporal Artery – across their forehead with an infrared thermometer. Not recommended for babies under three months.
  • Rectally – in their anal opening (their bottom) with a standard digital multi-use thermometer. While this is an accurate time-proven method of checking temperature, some health care providers do not recommend this method for home use. It is possible to injure your child if it is not done correctly – and some parents are just squeamish about it. Talk with your baby’s health care provider before using this approach. If this approach is recommended to you, just remember to label the thermometer so it doesn’t end up in someone’s mouth.

If you are calling your doctor’s office about your baby’s temperature, they will need to know which method you used because some methods tend to give higher results (rectal) and others lower (axillary).

What temperature is normal?

For infants, anything over 99 degrees (orally or axially) or 100.4 degrees (rectally) is considered to be a fever.

When do I call my child’s healthcare provider?

When your child has a fever, you will want to pay extra close attention to their appearance and behavior to see if they have other symptoms. You will want to call your child’s health care provider if …

  • your child is less than 3 three months (12 weeks) of age and has a fever over 100.4 degrees F.
  • your child’s fever repeatedly rises over 104 degrees F, regardless of age.
  • your child has been somewhere very hot (like inside a closed car) – heatstroke can be mistaken for a fever but is far more dangerous.
  • your child looks very ill, complains of a stiff neck or is acting unusually tired.
  • your child is displaying other symptoms, particularly if they are severe, unexplainable, or repeated (such as severe headaches, an odd rash, or recurring vomiting).
  • has other severe health complications such as cancer or is taking steroids.
  • has had a seizure.
  • seems to be getting worse or is still behaving sickly even after fever has broken.
  • if fever remains after 24 hours (if they are under 2 years old) or 72 hours (if they are older than 2 years).

Remember that most pediatricians’ offices have a nurse on-call after hours. Take advantage of this valuable resource if you are concerned about your child’s fever.

How can I comfort my baby when they have a fever?

In some cases, fevers must simply run their course. While you may not be able to get rid of the fever, there are still some things you can still do to help comfort your baby.

  • Make sure their living and sleeping areas are not too warm and strip off any extra layers of clothing.
  • Try placing a fan nearby to keep air cool and circulating.
  • Encourage your child (over 1 year old) to drink extra fluids such as water or watered-down juice. You can even offer yummy treats that will increase their fluid intake such as Jell-O or popsicles.
  • Try the sponge technique by placing them in their tub with a couple inches of slightly warm water (85-90 degrees F, it should not feel cold). Take a clean sponge or washcloth and dab the water over their exposed skin and allow to evaporate. If child resists, let them play in the water or take them out if they are getting agitated. Do not let child get cold, as shivering can actually make a fever worse!
  • If you have tried the above options, giving a child (over six months) ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help reduce their fever. For children under two years of age, call your pediatrician for dosing information.

If you would like help learning how to take your infant’s temperature, talk to your Healthy Futures nurse or your health care provider.