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A fever is usually a sign of illness as for example with viral infections such as colds and flu. Although the fever itself may not be harmful, the causes behind the fever may be harmful. Sometimes a baby’s temperature can rise above normal if they have been dressed too warmly, they are in a hot environment or if they are teething.
It is quite common (but very worrying for parents to witness) for high temperatures in babies and young children to cause fits. This does not mean that your child will continue to have fits for the rest of his life but it is still a good idea to check with your doctor the first time your baby has a fit so that any other cause can be ruled out.
The best way to take your baby’s temperature is by placing the bulb of the thermometer under the arm (axillary temperature) for at least 3 minutes. If using a mercury thermometer ensure that the mercury is below 35 degrees C (or 95 degrees F) before you start. Alternatively, you could use a digital thermometer. A normal temperature is 37 degrees C (or 98 degrees F).
You can try reducing the fever by removing all heavy clothing and wiping your baby’s skin with a sponge soaked in lukewarm water. Keep this up until the temperature reaches 38.5 degrees C (101 degrees F) or less. You can also give a simple painkiller such as sugar free paracetamol for children.
Give your baby plenty of liquids to prevent dehydration and to help the body cool itself. Keep your baby quiet and keep the room temperature at about 21 degrees C (70 degrees F). Dress your baby in light cotton clothing so that body heat can escape. Don’t bundle your baby up. If your child is chilled you can add an extra blanket but remove it again, once your baby is warm.
If your baby is under 3 months old and has a fever of 38.5 degrees C, then it is wise to consult your doctor as very young babies can get very sick, very quickly. Older babies with temperatures should still be watched carefully and any symptoms noted. If you are at all concerned, you can contact your doctor for advice and reassurance. Doctors recommend taking both the temperature and the baby’s overall condition into account. The following symptoms are ones that could be cause for concern:
Bad headaches or changes in behavior
Continuous vomiting and/or diarrhea
Skin rash and/or a dry mouth
Sore throat or earache for several days
A stiff neck
Fever on and off for several days
Irritableness and/or high-pitched crying
Swelling of the soft spot on the head
No appetite and/or unresponsive and limp
Pale and/or whimpering
Although it can be frightening when your baby’s temperature rises, it is often the body’s way of fighting off infection and is probably not serious if your baby is still eating and drinking normally, is playful, alert and smiling, has a normal skin color and seems much better as soon as the temperature comes down.