Fever in Infants and Children | Overview

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What is a normal temperature?

A normal temperature is about 98.6°F (37°C) when taken orally (in your child’s mouth) and 99.6°F (37.5°C) when taken rectally (in your child’s bottom). Many doctors define a fever as an oral temperature above 99.5°F (37.5°C) or a rectal temperature above 100.4°F (38°C).

How should I take my child's temperature?

You can get the most accurate temperature by taking his or her temperature rectally. But in a child older than 3 months of age, it’s fine to take it orally unless your doctor directs otherwise. Use a digital thermometer. Do not use a mercury thermometer. Mercury is an environmental toxin (poison), and you don't want to risk exposing your family to it.

  • Be sure to label your rectal thermometer so that it isn’t accidentally used in your child’s mouth.
  • Before taking your child’s temperature, clean the thermometer in lukewarm soapy water and rinse it well with cool water.
  • If you're taking your child's temperature orally, wait at least 20 minutes after your child finishes eating or drinking hot or cold foods and beverages to take his or her temperature.
  • Don't bundle your baby or child up too tightly before taking his or her temperature.
  • Don’t take your child’s temperature right after he or she has had a bath.
  • Never leave your child alone while using a thermometer.
  • After you're done using a thermometer, clean it with rubbing alcohol or wash it in cool, soapy water.

Taking your child’s temperature rectally

If you're taking your child's temperature rectally, place him or her belly-down across your lap. Coat the tip of the thermometer with petroleum jelly (brand name: Vaseline) and insert it half an inch into the rectum. Stop if you feel any resistance. Hold the thermometer still and do not let go. When the thermometer beeps, remove it and check the digital reading.

Taking your child’s temperature orally

If you're taking your child's temperature orally, place the end of the thermometer under his or her tongue, towards the back of the mouth. Have your child close his or her lips on the thermometer. Tell your child not to bite down or talk. When the thermometer beeps, remove it and check the digital reading.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 04/14
Created: 01/96

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Fever in Infants and Children

Overview

Symptoms

Treatment