Fever in Children: When Your Child Has a Fever

What is a normal temperature?

A normal temperature is about 98.6°F when taken orally (by mouth). Temperatures taken rectally (by rectum) usually run 1° higher than those taken orally. So a normal temperature is about 99.6°F when taken rectally. Many doctors define a fever as an oral temperature above 99.4°F or a rectal temperature above 100.4°F.

How should I take my child’s temperature?

The most accurate way to take your child’s temperature is orally or rectally with a digital thermometer. In a child younger than about 4 years, take the temperature rectally. In an older child, take it orally.

1. Mercury thermometers should not be used. Mercury is an environmental toxin, and you don’t want to risk exposing your family to it. If you have a mercury thermometer at home, you should remove it and use a digital thermometer.

2. Don’t bundle your baby or child up too tightly before taking the temperature.

3. Never leave your child alone while taking his or her temperature.

4. Be sure you use the right thermometer. Read the package instructions to see if you have an oral or rectal thermometer.

5. If you’re taking your child’s temperature rectally, coat the tip of the thermometer with petroleum jelly (brand name: Vaseline) and insert it half an inch into the rectum. Hold the thermometer still and do not let go. When the thermometer beeps, remove it and check the digital reading.

6. If you’re taking your child’s temperature orally, place the end of the thermometer under the tongue and leave it there until the thermometer beeps. Remove the thermometer and check the digital reading.

7. After you’re done using the thermometer, wash it in cool, soapy water.