Fever (High Temperature) in Children
Most children and babies will get a fever from time to time, so it’s worth understanding what’s generally considered to be normal and how you can keep them comfortable if they start to feel a little under the weather.
If you think your child might have a fever, you’ll need to know how to take a temperature properly, when to use CALPOL® Infant Suspension and CALPROFEN® Ibuprofen Suspension and when to call a doctor.
Temperature and fever in children
How to take a child’s temperature
A digital thermometer – either placed under the arm, in the ear or on the forehead is often the best way to take a child’s temperature.
Be mindful that other factors can influence a reading - such as if your child has been wrapped in a blanket or with a hot water bottle, spent time in a warm room, been particularly active, just had a bath or is wearing lots of layers of clothes.
Ways to take a temperature
There are two main options when taking a child’s temperature.
- Under arm: For children under the age of five, taking their temperature under the armpit gives the most accurate reading. Hold the thermometer in place for the period it states on the device’s instructions and make a note of the temperature and the time it was taken. That way you can track your child’s progress, if they’re getting better, and how long they’ve had a fever.
- Ear: A temperature reading taken from the ear can be quicker. Take care to get an accurate reading, as babies’ ears are naturally smaller than adults’, so it can be hard to get the thermometer into the correct position.
How to care for your child with a fever
Make sure your child is comfortable and drinking plenty of fluids. Keep an eye on them, especially during the night. There is no need to undress them or sponge them down, as neither helps reduce a fever. Just make sure they are clothed as normal to prevent shivering or overheating. Keep them out of nursery and at home.
If your child has a high temperature and seems distressed, you can give them a paracetamol-based medicine like CALPOL® Infant Suspension or an ibuprofen-based medicine like CALPROFEN® Ibuprofen Suspension, which will help to reduce the fever and get them on their way to feeling better. Do not give these together.
How long does Calpol® take to bring temperature down?
CALPOL® Infant Suspension gets to work quickly and starts to reduce fever within 15 minutes. It’s suitable for most babies from two months old. Make sure you read the product label, as doses vary according to age.
At what temperature should I give CALPOL®?
If your little one has a temperature of 38°C or above it is classed as a fever. If your child seems distressed, you may want to consider giving them CALPOL ® Infant Suspension.
Be mindful of other factors that can alter a temperature reading, such as if your child has been wrapped up in a tight blanket, in a warm room, has been very active, wearing a lot of clothes or straight after having a bath.
Using either paracetamol or ibuprofen for a raised temperature
If your child has a fever and is feeling under the weather, you can give them either paracetamol or ibuprofen to help them feel comfortable again.
In England, products that include paracetamol or ibuprofen are available to buy without having to get a prescription from a GP. CALPOL® Infant Suspension and CALPROFEN® Ibuprofen Suspension are both available in stores in 100ml, or alternatively 200ml is available over the counter in pharmacies.
CALPOL® Infant Suspension and CALPOL® SIXPLUS Suspension both contain paracetamol. CALPROFEN® Ibuprofen Suspension contains ibuprofen and can treat fever in children from three months, weighing more than 5kg.
Using a treatment diary – this can be used to keep track of when you’ve given medicine and how much. It can also be passed between parents or care givers as a record.
For more information on using paracetamol or ibuprofen when treating children’s fever, check the NHS guidelines
When to call a doctor for a fever in a child
Usually, fevers pass. But if you’re feeling concerned, it’s good to know at which point you should contact either your local GP or go to hospital.
You should contact your GP if your child is under 3 months and has a temperature of 38°C or higher or is 3 to 6 months and has a temperature of 39°C or higher.
If your baby or child is showing any of the following symptoms, it’s also worth getting an emergency GP appointment:
- Rash or other signs of illness as well as a fever
- The high temperature has lasted for more than 5 days
- They’re off their food or aren’t their usual selves and you’re worried
- You can’t reduce the temperature with either paracetamol or ibuprofen
- They are showing signs of dehydration such as: Feeling thirsty, dry mouth, feeling tired and dark yellow and strong smelling urine.
While a fever is usually just a cold or virus, in very rare occasions it could be a sign of something like meningitis, a urinary tract infection or sepsis. If your child has any of the following symptoms, call 999 or go to A&E directly:
- The fever can’t be controlled
- They have a stiff neck
- A rash has developed that doesn’t fade when you press a glass on it.
- Is bothered by lights
- They have a fit or seizure for the first time
- Their hands and feet are colder than usual
- Their skin has turned pale, blotchy, blue or grey
- Their cry becomes weak and high-pitched (not like their normal cry)
- It’s hard to wake them or they appear drowsy
- It becomes hard for the them to breathe and they suck their stomach in under their ribs
- The soft spot on their head starts to bulge outwards
Remember that you know your child best – trust your instincts. Keep a record of their temperature with our fever diary and if you’re worried or have any concerns, contact your GP.
Temperature and fever in babies
A high temperature or fever in a baby can be worrying for a new parent - especially if they’re only a few weeks old.
But it’s important to remember that every baby is different and a fever in itself is usually not due to a serious illness. Take a look at our handy guide that explains what’s classed as a ‘normal’ baby temperature and what to do if they develop a fever and become unwell.
How to take your baby's temperature
A fast and accurate way to take their temperature is with a digital thermometer, which often has a probe at one end and a display screen at the other. This will give you a definitive reading quickly.
If you’re wondering how to take a baby’s temperature, there are a few key pointers to bear in mind:
- Use a thermometer in the armpit with children under 5, as this is an accurate way to take a temperature
- Sit your baby on your lap or lay them down and place the probe in the centre of the armpit. Hold your baby’s arm against their body for however long it states in the manufacturer’s instructions (usually about 15 seconds).
- Some digital thermometers beep when they are ready.
- Make a note of your baby’s temperature and keep a record of how they are doing.
What should a baby’s temperature be?
The normal temperature of baby is around 36.4°C, but this can vary from child to child. Even a temperature of 37°C can be classed as normal.
What’s a high temperature for a baby?
If your little one has a temperature of 38°C or over, this is considered a fever.
But a baby’s temperature can rise and fall for all sorts of reasons, especially as their body is still learning to moderate temperature.
A fever will more often than not pass with care at home, but see your doctor if your baby is:
- Under three months old and has a temperature of 38°C or higher
- Under six months old and has a temperature of 39°C or higher
What’s the right temperature for a sleeping baby?
A sleeping baby's temperature should be within the normal range for awake babies. But you should keep the room at a comfortable temperature – especially if they have fever.
It usually isn’t necessary to keep the heating on all night – ideally try and keep the temperature of the room around 18°C.
If you need to check whether your baby is too warm, feel the back of their neck or their chest – and try not to worry if their hands or feet feel a little chilly, as this is perfectly normal. If they are too warm or uncomfortable, remove a blanket.
Newborn baby temperature: What is normal?
If your newborn ( classed as under three months ) has a temperature of 38°C or over, seek medical advice right away.
Babies, unlike children and older adults, cannot easily control their temperature. When they become too cold or too hot, they use up valuable energy trying to warm up or cool down. As a result, they do not grow very well. Therefore, it’s really important to keep your baby neither too hot nor too cold.
Outside factors that affect temperature
Usually, temperature should return to normal within 3-4 days and remember, there are certain factors that can alter a temperature reading. Your baby could display a warmer temperature if they’ve just had a bath, if they’ve been wrapped up tightly in a blanket or been cuddling a hot water bottle, for example. You might also get an inaccurate reading if your baby is wearing lots of layers, or if the room or car they’re in is too warm.
If this is the case, give them a few minutes to cool down (without letting them get cold), and re-take their temperature to see if there’s any change.
What causes a high temperature or fever in babies?
From vaccinations to common childhood illnesses, every baby is different and may or may not develop a high temperature in response. Fever is the body’s natural and instinctive response to infection, so if your baby has a high temperature it’s a good sign they’re fighting the infection and their immune system is working.
We’ve outlined below possible reasons your baby might develop a fever:
- Illnesses or infections
The fever itself isn’t classed as an illness – more the sign of an illness. The most common fever-causing illnesses in babies and children are coughs, colds or other viral infections. In most cases, a high temperature in babies isn’t anything to worry about, but it might be best to get it checked out for your own peace of mind. If your baby is under three months old and has a fever, get in touch with your GP. Other common illnesses related to fever include chicken pox and tonsillitis.
Many things can cause a high temperature, including vaccinations.
Your GP or practice nurse should explain all possible side effects of your baby’s vaccinations. You’ll also be advised to give your baby liquid paracetamol after the MenB vaccine which can reduce the risk of a fever by more than a half. It’s been found that without paracetamol, more than half of babies will develop a temperature in the hours following the injections. A fever will peak after roughly six hours and usually clears after two days. Read up on and find out how to keep your baby comfortable and help bring that temperature back down.
How to help a baby with a fever feel better
There are a number of things you can do to make them feel more comfortable:
- Give them fluids. Make sure your baby gets plenty of fluids and be on the lookout for signs of dehydration. Whether they’re breastfed or bottle-fed, give them regular feeds if they’ll accept them.
- Provide food for weaned babies but don’t force them to eat if they don’t want to.
- Don’t sponge them down in attempt to cool them – contrary to what many people might think, this doesn’t actually work to reduce the fever.
- Keep a log of their temperature at regular intervals throughout the day and night so you can monitor whether they’re improving or not. Use our fever diary to track how they’re doing and provide your GP with the record if you need to.
- Give them medicine. If they’re distressed, consider giving them paracetamol or ibuprofen - but never combine the two. CALPOL® Infant Suspension contains paracetamol and can be used with children older than two months. CALPROFEN® Ibuprofen Suspension contains ibuprofen and can treat fever in children from three months, weighing more than 5kg.
When to call a doctor for fever in a baby
Most fevers will resolve themselves. But if your baby shows any of the following signs, contact your local GP urgently or call NHS 111:
- They are under 3 months old and you’ve recorded a temperature of 38°C or higher
- If they are 3 to 6 months old and they have a temperature of 39°C or higher
- The fever has lasted for more than 5 days
- They are off their food and are not their usual self and you’re worried
- Paracetamol or ibuprofen given does not help to reduce the fever
- They’re showing signs of dehydration such as: Feeling thirsty, no tears when crying, dry mouth, feeling tired and dark yellow and strong smelling urine
While most fevers aren’t signs of anything serious, they can be related to meningitis, urinary tract infections and sepsis or other signs of an illness, such as a rash, as well as the fever. To rule these out, call 999 or take your child to your nearest A&E if:
- The fever cannot be controlled
- They have a stiff neck
- A rash has developed that doesn't fade under a glass
- Lights bother them
- They suffer a fit or seizure for the first time
- Their hands and feet are colder than normal
- Their skin is pale, blotchy, blue or grey
- Their cry becomes weak or high-pitched
- You see they are drowsy and hard to wake
- Breathing becomes difficult for them and they suck in their stomach in under their ribs
- The soft spot on their head starts to bulge outwards
Watch: Understanding fever in children
Ask An Expert
Search for an expert's answer to your questions
For babies and children aged 2 months to 6 years weighing more than 4kg and not premature.Tough on pain and fever. Gentle on the tummy.
Need help choosing which kind of medicine is most appropriate for your little one’s age, weight, symptoms and other factors?
Your baby may develop a slight fever after an immunisation. It’s normally nothing to worry about, but it can be unpleasant. Discover how you can help.
Contact the NHS
For health advice and reassurance, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.