For new parents, any sudden change in their baby can be overwhelming–particularly when it comes to body temperature.
To avoid unnecessary panic, first-time parents need to be armed with some baby temperature basics to understand what is normal and when to trigger a call to the doctor or visit the nearest hospital.
Q. What is a baby’s normal temperature?
A. A baby’s ideal temperature ranges from 36.5°Celsius to 37.6°C. Slight fluctuations to normal baby temp can occur depending on the baby’s activity, time of the day or the method used to take the temperature. In most cases, a fever is simply our body’s way of fighting off an infection.
Q. What is considered a low temperature for babies?
A. Your baby has a low temperature or hypothermia, if their temperature drops below 36.4°C.
Q. What is considered a high temperature for babies?
A. Your baby has a fever if you have recorded a temperature of 37.7°C or higher.
Q. How do I take a baby’s temperature correctly?
A. The different methods used to take a baby’s temperature are rectal (via the anus), oral (via the mouth), axillary (under the armpit), tympanic (via the ear) and temporal (forehead). Digital thermometers are by far the most common tool.
Normal baby temperature should range between 36.5°C and 37.6°C. Taking a baby’s temperature by mouth may not be as accurate as babies can’t keep their lips closed. Temperature taken under the arm should provide a normal reading of 37.5°C. Rectal thermometers record normal temperature at about 37.6°C. Tympanic (ear) and temporal (forehead) thermometers record normal temperature at 37.6°C and can be used while the baby is sleeping.
Printing a baby fever chart and keeping it on the fridge is a good idea.
How to take your baby’s temperature
- Ensure the thermometer is clean before using. Place the tip under the baby’s tongue. Keep the baby's lips closed until the thermometer signals it is done. Record the number, including date and time as well as the thermometer used. Always wait 15 minutes after feeding before taking your baby’s temperature.
- Clean the thermometer and lubricate it with Vaseline or pawpaw cream. Have your baby on their back, lift their legs, and insert the thermometer 1 to 2cms into baby’s bottom. Do not force the thermometer in if you feel any blockage or resistance. Hold the thermometer in place and wait until the signal beeps. Record the number, including date and time as well as the thermometer used.
- Place thermometer under baby’s armpit. Make sure it touches your baby’s skin and not clothing. Hold your baby’s arm across their chest to keep the thermometer tightly in place. Wait for the beep or signal and record the number, including date and time as well as the thermometer used.
- Gently place the thermometer in your baby’s ear and hold it in place until it beeps. Record the number, including the date and time temperature was taken, and the thermometer used.
- Place the sensor on top of the forehead and gently sweep the thermometer across the forehead toward the top of the ear. Stop when you reach the hairline. Record the number, including the date and time temperature was taken, and the thermometer used.
Q. What to do if your baby has a low body temperature?
A. Besides having a low temperature, observe if your baby also shows symptoms of having a pale and cool skin, poor feeding, shivering, sluggishness, trouble breathing, and weak cries. Common causes of low body temperature are low birth weight, a cold environment, nutritional deficiencies, or infections.
If you suspect that your baby has a low temperature, take the baby’s temperature and increase their body heat by:
- Checking and removing any wet clothing
- Making sure your baby is not hungry
- Adding clothing or wrapping your baby snuggly in a blanket
- Placing a bonnet or a hat to keep heat from escaping via the head
- Putting the baby next to you for more body heat
- Using room heater and warming the room to 25 degrees or more
- Using heated mattresses and blanket wraps
If you are still unable to increase your baby’s temperature by doing all of those, call a doctor right away. You may be instructed to seek emergency medical help or to go to the nearest emergency department. If this is the case:
- Make sure that there will be warm transportation
- Dress your baby appropriately and cover his or her hands, feet and head properly
- Keep the baby on your chest
If your baby usually has a normal body temperature and it drops below normal without any obvious reasons, take them to the nearest hospital and seek for medical help as sudden drops in body temperature are life threatening.
Q. What to do if your baby has a high body temperature?
A. Your baby may have a fever or a temperature higher than 37.6°C if his or her forehead, back or stomach feels hotter than usual when touched, is sweaty or clammy and, has flushed cheeks.
A fever is one of the signals that the body is fighting an infection, which is the most common cause of fever in babies and children. Fever is typically associated with colds, ear infections, influenza, sore throat, urinary tract infections and other common childhood diseases.
Babies sometimes get a low-grade fever after having their vaccines. Infants, especially, a newborn, may feel feverish when they are over bundled or in a hot environment. Allergic reactions to food or medications can also cause fever.
A baby with a fever under the age of 3 months must be taken straight to the nearest emergency department. For babies between 3 to 24 months, contact your doctor if your baby has a fever and:
- Is under three months old and has a temperature of 37.6°C or higher
- under six months and has a temperature of 39°C or higher
- has a rash
- has had fever for more than 3 days
- has ongoing headaches or tummy pain
- is floppy or drowsy
- is not taking fluids well
- is very cranky or fussy
- is vomiting
- shows sign of dehydration - sunken soft spot on the head (fontanelle), few wet nappies, dry mouth, no tears when crying
When it comes to a toddler and an older child, always seek medical advice for temperatures 39°C or higher.
If your baby has a high temperature and has the following symptoms, you should call 000 (Australia) immediately.
- lethargic and not responding to your voice
- losing consciousness
- has a seizure / febrile convulsion, (this can happen with a sudden onset of fever)
- has difficulty breathing
As a fever is a symptom, it is important to understand that the focus of treatment will be its underlying cause. However, it is also important to manage a baby’s temperature and make them more comfortable by:
- Covering then in lightweight sheet if they are shivering
- Dressing them in light clothing
- Giving enough fluids to avoid dehydration like breastmilk, formula, electrolyte solution or water based on the baby’s age
- Giving medication to lower the fever based on the doctor’s advice and instructions
- Giving them a lukewarm bath
- Keeping a comfortable room temperature by adjusting the heating or opening a window
"What should a baby’s temperature be ?" Is amongst the most common health questions new parents ask themselves. For more information, visit health direct.
Remember, if you are unsure or concerned always contact your doctor for guidance.