The Sydney Children's Hospital states that a normal body temperature for a young child is between 36.5 and 38 degrees celsius. For particularly young babies (those under three months of age) a temperature of 38 degrees celsius, even though within the range, is considered a high temperature. In older children (up to toddler age) a temperature of 38.5 is considered a fever.
Interpreting the reading of a thermometer is a common obstacle for parents, as it varies depending on the body part from which the measurement is taken. Parents should be aware of normal baby temperature ranges depending on which body part is being measured:
- Ear: 35.8 to 38.0 degrees celsius.
- Mouth: 35.5 to 37.8 degrees celsius.
- Armpit: no higher than 37.3 degrees celsius.
- Rectum: 36.6 to 38.0 degrees celsius.
Symptoms of a fever
Fevers or temperatures are common in children and is an indication that their bodies are fighting off an infection. Whether it’s caused by the flu, a urinary tract infection or by sore gums, it is relatively easy to determine if a baby has a temperature and if there is any need for concern.
- A shivering baby;
- A baby with a hot or flushed forehead, back or tummy;
- An irritable baby;
- A baby who no longer has an appetite; and
- A baby whose temperature is in excess of 37.5 degrees celsius when measured (depending on body part).
The following processes can help the fever pass and make a child feel as comfortable as possible for its duration:
- Dress the child in light clothing and avoid layers. In babies that are under 3 months of age, a nappy might be enough with a linen or light swaddle on top.
- Increase milk feeds in children up to 6 months old who are still having breast milk.
- For babies under 6 months of age offer smaller feeds more frequently.
- For children over 6 months old offer fluids regularly, including water in addition to milk. If you notice that the children are struggling with water intake, you could offer diluted fruit juice instead.
- Give a child liquid paracetamol and if they are over 3 months old a liquid ibuprofen is also okay.
A baby's low body temperature, also referred to as hypothermia, is when your baby's body temperature drops below 36.5 degrees celsius. In situations where a baby's temperature drops just 1 degree below the normal range, their body will start to use 10% more oxygen than usual. This increased pressure can cause complications of its own including death.
The best thing to do if you suspect your baby has a low temperature is to measure their temperature. If your thermometer indicates a low blood temperature you should telephone your child’s health nurse, paediatrician, or any healthcare professional. You should also add extra layers of clothing to older babies and try swaddling for young babies. It's important that you get your baby's temperature up as soon as possible and get them to an emergency room so that you have medical assistance on hand.
Symptoms of low body temperature include:
- A sluggish baby;
- Poor or interrupted feeding in a baby who is usually a good eater;
- A weak cry;
- Skin that is cool to the touch; and
- A baby who is having trouble breathing.
Children tend to be resilient when it comes to fevers, although babies aged from newborn to three (3) months of age should be taken to the doctor at the first sign of a fever.
In older children including those aged 3-12 months, they should be taken to a doctor if the fever persists for a day. Children over 12 months of age tend to have a strong immune system so a fever doesn't necessarily mean you need to get medical advice.
Parents who wish to be prepared for high or low temperatures, should follow the advice of pregnancybirthbaby.org.au and have a thermometer, some paracetamol or ibuprofen suitable for the baby’s age and a health professionals contact details ready so that swift action can be taken if necessary.
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