As a parent, nothing is more precious than your child. If your little one is exhibiting signs and symptoms of a high temperature, your natural reaction might be to panic. Not to worry — you can easily assess the severity of their fever at home by using a baby fever chart.
It’s normal for your baby’s temperature to fluctuate for various reasons, and it’s not always necessarily a bad thing. But you may be wondering what is a fever for a baby.
Below, we’ll explain the baby fever chart to help decide whether you should treat your little one’s fever at home and when you should call the pediatrician or local urgent care center.
Infant, Toddler, and Baby Fever Chart
It’s normal for your baby’s temperature to fluctuate for various reasons: from physical exertion, taking a warm bath, fighting allergies, or even digestion and heightened metabolism. Even the time of day can have an impact since body temperatures tend to rise in the afternoon and early evening.
Use the baby fever chart below to help assess your child’s situation to know how to effectively treat the fever.
What Temperature is Considered a Fever for a Baby?
Many people do not know what temperature is a fever for a baby, and therefore do not always properly manage the specific situation.
Your child is considered to have a fever if he or she:
- Has a rectal, ear or temporal artery temperature of 100.4 F (38 C) or higher
- Has an oral temperature of 100 F (37.8 C) or higher
- Has an armpit temperature of 99 F (37.2 C) or higher
If you're in doubt about a temperature reading, use another method to confirm the results.
Use the Right Thermometer to Determine Fever in Babies
To determine whether your child does indeed have a fever, it’s necessary to obtain the right temperature measurement. This starts with having the right instrument. Regardless of your baby’s age, a digital multiuse thermometer is recommended.
Not only is a digital thermometer inexpensive and easy to use, it’s also the most reliable temperature-taking instrument. There are several ways to take your child’s temperature with a digital thermometer.
- Rectal thermometers - These are recommended whenever possible as they give the most accurate readings, especially for babies and toddlers under 2 years old. However, they typically aren’t fun for you or your baby.
- Armpit thermometers - This method may be easier to obtain a temperature in your little one, but they aren’t as accurate.
- Tympanic (ear) or temporal (forehead) thermometers - These methods aren’t as precise because they can be skewed by external temperatures. Mercury thermometers should be avoided at all times because if they were to break, they would expose your child to their toxic effects.
Since a rectal temperature is considered the most accurate method to assess temperature in babies, this is recommended whenever possible.
How to Reduce Baby Fever at Home
Should your child seem uncomfortable or in pain, there are several options for baby fever treatment at home to help him or her feel better.
Baby Fever Treatment Methods
Fever-reducing medicines such as ibuprofen (for babies over 6 months) and acetaminophen can provide some relief, but there are other baby fever treatment methods that can lower a temperature:
- Cold compress – Placing a cool, wet washcloth on your child’s head can draw the fever out and help your baby rest.
- Fluids – To prevent dehydration and aid the body in cooling itself, give your child plenty of fluids, including water, clear soups, popsicles, or yogurt. If your baby is younger than 6 months, breast milk will hydrate and strengthen your little one’s immune system while fighting illness.
- Keep baby’s room cool - Use air conditioning or a fan on its low setting to keep your baby’s room at a comfortable temperature (70-74ºF). Also, try to avoid taking your child outside in the sun. Should you venture out, remain in the shade.
- Lightweight clothing – Remove extra layers of clothing so your child can lose heat more easily through the skin. Since infants can’t regulate their temperature well, it’s harder to cool them down once overheated with multiple layers.
- Lukewarm sponge bath – Help your child feel more at ease with a relaxing sponge bath using lukewarm water. As water evaporates from his or her skin, it can bring the fever down temporarily. But avoid using cold water as this can cause your baby to shiver, raising his or her temperature.
Whatever you choose to do to alleviate discomfort, do not use aspirin as this can cause a potentially fatal illness called Reye’s syndrome.
How to Dress Baby with Fever at Night
If your baby has a fever or chills, it may be tempting to dress them in extra clothes and blankets. However doing this may actually prevent the fever from coming down or make it go higher, adding to your child’s discomfort.
Instead, dress your baby in a single layer of light, comfortable clothes and one lightweight blanket to sleep with. Keep their room temperature comfortable - not too hot or too cold.
What Causes Fever in Babies and Toddlers
It’s important to remember a fever is not itself an illness. Instead, it’s a symptom of another underlying issue. In most cases, the issue is probably an infection; however, depending on what type of infection it is or whether it’s another problem will determine the course of treatment.
Some of the most common causes are:
- Viral infection – Viruses like an intestinal infection, the cold or flu, croup, or chickenpox can cause your baby to develop a fever as a natural response to fighting off infection. Since viruses are not bacterial in nature, antibiotics will, unfortunately, have no effect.
- Bacterial infection – While less typical than viral fevers, bacterial fevers can be a much more serious infection. Ear and throat infections, urinary tract infections, bacterial pneumonia, or bacterial meningitis require antibiotics to prevent additional health complications.
- Over bundling – Because they can’t regulate their bodies as well as older kids, infants – particularly newborns – can get fevers if they’re overdressed or in a warm environment. Make sure your baby is not over-bundled with extra blankets or clothes, causing a rise in body temperature. Also, check to see that his or her room is comfortable – not too hot or cold.
- Immunization – If your child received a vaccination in the past 24 hours, he or she might experience a low-grade fever. This should be nothing to worry about, and appropriate dosages of infants’ or children’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used to alleviate pain. But, if the fever persists past 48 hours, it’s advisable to call your doctor or visit an urgent care center.
- Teething – It’s possible for your infant to develop a slight rise in temperature because of new teeth coming in. Rubbing your child’s teeth or using a teething ring can help. If your baby’s teething fever lasts longer than 2 days, seek medical advice.
It can be difficult to determine what is causing the fever, which is why many doctors will order a blood, urine test, or X-ray to pinpoint the root cause.
When to Seek Medical Treatment
Let’s say your little one is showing signs of a fever and you take his or her temperature. Just because your thermometer reads 102ºF, it shouldn’t be cause for alarm. What some parents don’t know is that a higher temperature reading doesn’t necessarily correlate to a sicker child.
However, you should call your doctor or urgent care center if your baby:
- Has a rash
- Is not eating
- Is not sleeping well
- Is very cranky, irritable, or difficult to calm down
If you’re ever in doubt, it’s always best to play it safe and call your pediatrician or local urgent care for advice.
When to go to the Emergency Room
Take your child to the emergency room right away or call 911 if they have any of the following symptoms:
- Has a seizure
- HAS purple or blood-colored spots on their skin
- Is having trouble breathing
- Is lethargic or not responsive
- Shows signs of dehydration, such as fewer wet diapers, crying without tears or having a sunken soft spot on their head
These symptoms indicate your baby’s fever is serious and should therefore be treated urgently.
When to Take a Baby to GoHealth Urgent Care
If your child has a fever, they are not alone – infants and toddlers get fevers. While at the onset you might be worried, just know that your baby should be back to its normal, rambunctious self within a few days.
Rather than basing the severity of your child’s fever on just a thermometer reading, be aware of how your little one’s actions, as this can be a more telling sign of what is going on.
Plus, make sure not to mistake a fever for heatstroke, which is caused by external heat rather than an infection or internal condition. When a baby is left in a very hot place, like a closed car or warm beach in the summer, it can cause body temperature to rise to fatal levels.
You know your baby better than anyone. Whether you’re a new mom or a dad of four, if you’re concerned, don’t hesitate to contact your family doctor for an appointment or advice. Your local GoHealth Urgent Care Center has visit times available when you cannot wait for your primary care provider, for what could be days.
Because when your baby’s back to smiling and playing, as usual, you’ll be able to relax once again – at least about their high-temperature fever!
See our prices on co-pays and same-day visits, with and without insurance.
Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant