What temperature is a fever for babies and toddlers – and when should you call a doctor?

Worrying about your baby’s high temperature and the best ways to make them feel better? Check out our guide on how to know if your baby or toddler has a fever, and when to seek help from a doctor.

mum taking baby's temperature

Fever is not uncommon in babies and children, with symptoms like flushed cheeks, feeling sweaty, clammy or hot to the touch – all tell-tale signs of a raised temperature.


It can be a worry, but we bring you the latest advice from the NHS, and top tips from a professional doctor.

What temperature is a fever in babies?

38C is the temperature classed as a fever for babies – the NHS says a normal temperature for babies and children under 5 is 36.4C (97.5F), although that can vary from child to child.

Is a fever different for toddlers and older children?’

The NHS says 38C (101F) is a fever for all babies, toddlers and children from newborn to 5 years old. The main difference is when you need to go to a doctor – this is important as it depends on the age of your child.

When should my baby see a doctor with a fever?

If your baby is less than 3 months old and has a temperature of 38C (101F) or higher, or if your baby is 3 to 6 months old with a temperature of 39C (102F) or higher then it’s time to get medical advice.

First port of call is your GP, but if it’s a weekend or the practice is closed, call NHS 111 or contact your local GP out-of-hours service.

It’s very rare that a fever could be a serious illness, but it can be an indicator of an everyday infection that needs treating.

MFM’s consultant GP Dr Philippa Kaye explains: “Any baby under 3 months old with any fever should see a doctor and this is even more important in those under 1 month old.”

Dr Kaye points out it’s important to keep an eye on your little one’s general wellbeing, as well as being guided by their temperature.

“It depends on how your child is in themselves. If they aren’t drinking or urinating or if they are drowsy, floppy, or can’t be roused they need to be seen urgently,” she advises.

Dr Kaye adds that if a fever has lasted for 5 days, you should get medical attention.

Writing on our forum, mum Dylansmummy was concerned about her baby’s fever of 38.5C, with a cough and “awful nappy”, but was reassured by a visit to the doctor: “Just back from GP, he has a viral infection and a possible ear infection.

“Feel much better now he’s been checked out and I know what’s wrong.”


What are the symptoms of fever to look out for?

You may suspect your baby has a fever if she has flushed, rosy cheeks, or feels especially sweaty or clammy to touch.

Plus, she may have a fever if she feels hotter than usual when you touch her forehead, back or tummy – though bear in mind factors like the number of layers they have on, and whether it’s unusually warm weather!

If you have an inkling your baby has a fever, check her temperature with a reliable thermometer.

How can I make sure I get an accurate temperature reading?

First things first – get hold of an accurate thermometer to make sure the temperature readings can be trusted. It’s a good idea to check the thermometer has been tested to give a reading within 0.2C accuracy.

Forehead thermometers shouldn’t be used, as they can give inaccurate results, says the NHS.

In babies under 4 weeks, the best way to measure temperature accurately is with an electronic thermometer in their armpit, according to latest clinical guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

From 4 weeks to 5 years, there’s more choice from the wide range of thermometers out there.

As well as electronic thermometers for the armpit, there’s ear thermometers, and even no-contact infrared skin thermometers, that can be used without waking your baby. Genius!

Mum RobinSparkles says she invested in a “swanky ear thermometer after not having one for ages”.

“We had an incident where we had overlooked how ill our [daughter] was because we had no means of checking her temperature properly,” she explains on our forum.

“Now whenever they are ill I use it as a gauge whether to medicate or not and when to seek medical attention.”

What’s a high temperature but not a fever?

Although adults generally have an average temperature of about 37C, for babies it is a little lower at around 36.4C.

So your baby might have a high temperature of 37C or 37.5C, but it’s only classed as a fever if the thermometer reading hits 38C.


How can I bring my child’s temperature down?

Most fevers can be brought down using ibuprofen or paracetamol, says Dr Kaye.

“If a fever doesn’t come down at all with paracetamol or ibuprofen then your baby needs to be seen by a doctor, though I wouldn’t worry so much if the fever rises again as the medication wears off, it is more if it never comes down at all,” explains Dr Kaye.

“In fact, if they have a fever but are running around and playing as normal and drinking plenty of fluids then you don’t even need to treat a temperature with medicine – you treat the child not the number itself!”

It’s important to remember not to give paracetamol (like Calpol) to babies under 2 months, and not to give ibuprofen (like Nurofen) to babies under 3 months or 5kg, or to those with asthma.

Mum MissusS, shared her worries about her 7-week-old baby Henry on our forum, as he was too young for paracetamol or ibuprofen: “With him feeling slightly hot I dug out my shiny new ear thermometer. It said 37.8C then on next reading 38C.

“I stripped him off a couple of layers and took it again and now it’s 36.5 – 37C.”

Can I make my baby more comfortable with a fever?

It is distressing when your baby isn’t well – but there are a few things you can do to help them feel better when they have a fever.

Encourage them to drink lots and offer regular feeds if you’re breastfeeding, plus keep them at home if they usually go to nursery, a childminder or playgroup.

While it’s good to avoid overdressing your little one when they have a fever, there’s no need to undress them or sponge them down with water – research shows neither actually reduces fever.

Make sure to look out for signs of dehydration like fewer wet nappies, a dry mouth, no tears, and sunken eyes.

Dr Kaye concludes: “As always, if you are concerned about your child’s health then please seek medical advice.”

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