A fever is an increase in your child’s body temperature. It is part of the body’s normal response to infections, and it plays an important role in fighting such infections.
Fever is rare in babies under six months of age and can be a sign of serious illness or infection. Contact your doctor for advice if your baby is younger than three months and has a fever 38°C or above, or is between three and six months of age with a temperature of 39°C or above.
Normal body temperature is 37°C (98.6°F) when measured by the mouth. Fever is a body temperature of 1ºC or more above the normal range. Normal body temperature varies according to where it is measured as well as at different times of the day.
A number of different types of thermometers are available, your doctor or pharmacist will be able to offer you advice. Always follow the instructions that come with the thermometer.
1. Mercury or digital thermometers:
Used under child’s arm (never in baby’s mouth or in baby’s bottom). Plastic digital thermometers, which beep when they’re ready, are easier to use and read than traditional thin glass thermometers. They’re also less fragile. Some also bend to mould into the shape of child’s underarm.
2. Fever strip:
Placed on baby’s forehead. Fast to use (remember to take off the backing strip first), and good as a general guide – but not as accurate as other methods.
3. Instant thermometer (infra-red):
Used in baby’s ear. Quicker (almost instantaneous), easier to use and read, and quite accurate – but a lot more expensive.
- Offer your child regular drinks (where a baby or child is breastfed the most appropriate fluid is breast milk).
- Look for signs of dehydration: sunken fontanel (soft spot on a baby’s head), dry mouth, sunken eyes, no tears, and fewer wet nappies than normal.
- Do not under or over dress your baby; if they are shivering or sweating a lot add more or less clothing accordingly.
- Do not sponge your child with water; this does not help to reduce fever.
- Check your child regularly for rashes and to see if they are getting better. If a rash appears or if you are concerned that your child is not improving contact your doctor for advice.
- If your child attends daycare check the policy at the centre; it is best to keep your baby home while they have a fever and notify the daycare of the illness.
You need to see a doctor if your child has a fever and:
- Your child is very young (six months or younger).
- Your child seems very sick.
You also need to see a doctor if your child:
- Has an earache.
- Has difficulty swallowing.
- Has fast breathing.
- Has a rash.
- Has vomiting.
- Has neck stiffness.
- Has bulging of the fontanel (the soft spot on the head in babies).
- Is very sleepy or drowsy.
Medicines (known as antipyretics) to reduce fever are available from the pharmacy. These medicines can help to lower your baby’s temperature, but they do not treat the cause of the fever.
If your child’s temperature is above 38.5°C and they are distressed or very unwell, you can help to make them feel more comfortable by giving them an antipyretic, such as Children’s Panadol®.
Children’s Panadol (paracetamol) can be given to babies from one month of age. The recommended dose for use in children is 15 mg/kg every four to six hours up to a maximum of four doses (60mg/kg) per day for up to 48 hours. Paracetamol starts to reduce fever in as little as 15 minutes† and can reduce fever for up to eight hours.
Always follow the directions on the bottle and ask your doctor or pharmacist if you are unsure about the correct dose to give for your child.
- If there is severe vomiting, and baby does not keep down paracetamol or any fluids.
- If baby’s neck seems stiff or rigid.
- If baby is having difficulty breathing.
- If baby is screaming, very irritable and unable to be consoled.
- If baby is unconscious (you can’t wake him or her up), or if he or she is having fits or convulsions (jerky, uncontrollable movements).
What happens if your baby has a convulsion and what can you do during this time? Find out with this information about Febrile convulsions.