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Caring for a Toddler With a Fever

August 8, 2013 by HealthyFamilies BC

toddler sleeping, with red face indicating fever


You need a thermometer to know for sure if your toddler has a fever. Feeling your toddler’s forehead or neck for warmth is not enough.

A “normal” temperature for a toddler depends on what kind of thermometer you are using.

Method Normal temperature range
Armpit 36.5°C - 37.5°C (97.8°F - 99.5°F)
Mouth 35.5°C - 37.5°C (95.9°F - 99.5°F)
Ear 35.8°C - 38°C (96.4°F - 100.4°F)
Rectal (Bum) 36.6°C - 38°C (97.9°F - 100.4°F)

From birth to age 5, the most common way to take a temperature is under the armpit. For children older than 2, temperatures can also be taken by ear or, if the child is able to sit still long enough, by mouth. The most accurate way to take a temperature is in the bum (rectal method). Use a rectal thermometer only if you are comfortable doing so and a health care provider has shown you how to do it safely.

To take a temperature under your child’s arm, place the thermometer high up in the centre of the armpit. Make sure it’s touching bare skin on all sides. Hold your toddler’s arm close to the body and leave the thermometer in place for about 1 minute, or until you hear the “beep”. Comfort and distract your toddler while taking the temperature. If the reading is high or you’re not sure it’s accurate, wait a few minutes and try again.

You may have heard of other ways to take your child’s temperature, but these methods are not recommended:

  • Mercury (glass) thermometers. If the thermometer breaks, your toddler might be exposed to the mercury, which is poisonous.
  • Forehead strips or pacifier thermometers. These are not accurate.
  • Glass thermometers. Never use a glass thermometer in a toddler’s mouth.

Fevers can cause discomfort and dehydration; however a fever in a healthy toddler is usually not dangerous. This is especially true if the toddler does not have other symptoms and the fever goes away in three to four days. It’s important to look for other symptoms of sickness besides fever. The degree of fever may not indicate the severity of your child’s illness.

Did You Know?
Teething doesn’t cause fever. If a baby is teething and has a fever, look for other symptoms that may need to be evaluated.

If you’re concerned about a fever, call HealthLink BC at 8 1 1 or contact your public health office or family doctor.

Resources & Links:

HealthLink BC: Fever, Age 11 and Younger
HealthLink BC: Rectal Temperature
Coping with Crying


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