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How hot is too hot? Understanding newborn temperature

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan is a journalist, humour columnist, and a mum who has survived nappy explosions mid-air. She has over a decade of experience writing for print and online publications and is currently working on her first book.
Created on Apr 19, 2024 · 5 mins read
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I'm 100% confident that if parents of newborns had to choose between fighting a zombie and tackling a baby's fever, 95.87% of them would take their chances with the zombie.

Of course, this particular statistic is completely made up, but I’m still willing to bet on it.


Because if there is one thing that makes parents of a newborn baby panic and hyperventilate, it’s when their child has a fever.

But rule no. 1 of parenting; if things are heating up, the last thing you do as a parent is lose your cool. And while this applies to tantrums, meltdowns, and nosebleeds, it’s also true for fevers!

And informed parents are more likely to stay calm. That’s why it’s important to know what normal forehead temperatures for newborns are, how to get an accurate reading of your child’s fever, and when it’s time to rush to the closest emergency room.

What is normal for newborn temperature?

The average body temperature or normal temperature for newborns is between 36.5°C and 38°C. That’s the safe zone where you are okay!

If you have a baby under 3 months old and they have a fever with a temperature above 100.4 °F (38 °C), you should rush to the nearest hospital emergency department immediately.

A fever in newborns is over 100.4 °F (38° C) and is usually a sign of infection, disease, or inflammation.

However, the fever itself is never the problem. In fact, it helps the body’s immune system create an ideal temperature to ‘fight’ the problem.

If you think about it, it’s also a pretty smart alarm system to alert caregivers. A raised temperature is the body’s way of telling you that there has been an attack and that it’s currently fighting off an infection—and in some cases, it could use a little backing up.

Your newborn might have a fever if they are:

  • uncomfortable, irritated, and constantly crying
  • sleepier than usual or lethargic
  • refusing to drink or feed
  • shivering
  • vomiting
  • febrile child seizures in children due to a sudden increase in body temperature (although this is quite rare).

The fever may rise slowly or spike quickly, and it may also fluctuate

How to measure a newborn baby's temperature

The most accurate way to know if your baby has a fever is to check your child’s temperature using a thermometer. And for this, you need to pick a weapon of choice.

Fortunately, there are many options to choose from. While some are more superior (read: accurate) than others, it’s okay to opt for one that gets the job done without all hell breaking loose!

  1. Mercury thermometers: Not recommended as they can break and mercury is poisonous.
  2. Digital ear thermometers: Quick and easy but not recommended for newborns. (Ear temperatures miss the accuracy mark with babies under 6 months).
  3. Digital probe thermometers: Must be used in the armpit (axillary) for accurate readings in newborns.
  4. Digital temporal artery thermometers: Easy, quick but lose points for the lack of accuracy.
  5. Rectal thermometer: Be sure to use the rectal thermometer correctly and only if you are comfortable with it. While rectal temperatures are accurate, they require proper hygiene.
  6. Fever strips and digital pacifier thermometers: Not recommended as they lack accuracy.


A guide to taking your child’s temperature

When taking a baby’s temperature, make sure they are comfortably placed on your lap.

Follow the product maker’s directions, place the thermometer properly, and remove it only after the required time.

Do note that the type of thermometer you choose matters. For forehead or rectal temperature, anything above 100.4°F (38°C) is a fever, while an armpit temperature of 99°F (37.2°C) or higher will be a fever in babies under 3 months.

Ensuring accurate readings with a digital thermometer

For accurate temperature readings, use a digital thermometer in the armpit and closely follow the instructions. Hold the arm against the body to keep the thermometer in place for about 15 seconds till you hear the beep.  

Also, make sure your baby isn’t warm from being wrapped up, near a room heater, or from wearing too many clothes, as this can affect the reading. 

When to seek medical help

As parents, it is important to know when to take the important shots! And the right decision at the right time can make all the difference.

This includes knowing what a high temperature is for a newborn, which requires you to run to the hospital emergency department immediately and what is just a case of an overheated baby.

Your cue to worry

For newborns and babies under 3 months old, a fever is anything above 100.4 °F (38 °C) and requires immediate medical attention. You should rush to the emergency department immediately, even with no other signs of illness.

For babies between the ages of 3 months and a year, a fever requires the attention of your child’s healthcare provider.

And on that note, teething does not cause fever in babies.

If your child is over 12 months of age, and has a fever that is accompanied by trouble breathing, drowsiness, frequent vomiting or diarrhea, a stiff neck, or any other sign of pain and discomfort, get in touch with your baby’s healthcare provider.

Managing your baby's temperature at home

Home care tips for managing fever

Ensuring your baby stays hydrated is crucial. Breastfed babies under 6 months should increase feedings, while formula-fed infants should continue their regular feeding schedule.

Gently wiping your baby’s forehead with a sponge or cloth dipped in slightly warm water also helps. Avoid cold baths or showers, as these are not recommended for managing fever in babies.

When to use medication

Your doctor may recommend paracetamol or ibuprofen for babies older than 3 months. Do not self-medicate and always consult your healthcare provider before administering any medication to your newborn.

Ask for assistance

Still prefer the zombie apocalypse to this stressful situation?

That’s okay. We all need a little backup sometime! Take a deep breath and reach out to Pregnancy Birth and Baby at 1800 882 436 to speak to a maternal child health nurse.





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