A temperature below 35 C is abnormal for a baby. Low body temperatures can endanger the life of the baby and, hence, necessitate quick action.
- The normal temperature of a child is generally between 97.7 F (36.5 C) and 99.5 F (37.5 C) when measured with an oral thermometer.
- If the temperature drops below 97.7 F (36.5 C), the condition is known as hypothermia (low body temperature).
How to check your baby's body temperature?
It can be difficult for you to take a newborn baby's temperature by the mouth (oral temperature) with a digital thermometer. This is because the baby will not be able to hold the thermometer in their mouth for more than a few seconds. Hence, this technique may not give you an accurate temperature. It is better to insert the digital thermometer into the baby's rectum and measure the rectal temperature. Be sure to lubricate the tip of the thermometer with petroleum jelly before it is inserted in the rectum.
Always use separate thermometers for oral and rectal use. Rectal temperature is generally higher by 0.5-1 F than an oral temperature.
Why does your baby have a low body temperature?
Certain conditions may cause your baby's temperature to be lower than normal. These are as follows:
- Premature birth (Early birth): Infants born at less than 28 weeks gestation are more likely to develop hypothermia than those who are born at a normal gestational age (38-42 weeks).
- Low birth weight: Three to seven out of 10 babies born with a weight of <1.5 kg have a greater risk of hypothermia than those with >1.5 kg.
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar level): Common in neonates (newborn babies) a few days after birth, hypoglycemia is more likely to happen in infants who
- Are born early.
- Develop serious infections.
- Have low oxygen levels.
- Had intrauterine growth retardation or IUGR (slower growth in the womb during pregnancy).
- Are smaller or larger than expected.
- Life-threatening conditions: Some serious conditions can tamper with the baby's ability to regulate their body temperatures. These include
- Meningitis (infection of the brain)
- Sepsis (a widespread infection in the body that can lead to multiorgan damage)
- Intracranial hemorrhage (bleeding in the skull)
Watch out if the baby shows any of the warnings signs that point out to a serious condition. These are as follows:
- A dull child
- Refusal to take feeds
- Pale, cold, clammy skin (particularly, hands and feet)
- A skin rash
- Poor feeding
- Increased respiratory rate (fast breathing)
If your child develops these signs, do not delay in seeking immediate medical treatment.
What should you do if your baby has a low temperature?
A baby cannot regulate its body temperature as efficiently as an adult. Hence, they need to be protected well from cold and heat. Hence, it is generally advisable to delay a baby's first bath by at least 12 hours after birth.
After you get discharged from the hospital and bring your little one at home, make sure you place the baby in warm blankets, preferably on heated mattresses. This can prevent the baby's temperature from dropping down below normal. Make sure it is not too hot, or it can blister the newborn's skin.
If you feel your baby's skin is cold, quickly check their temperature with a digital thermometer. If you find the temperature low, here is what you can do to increase it:
- Swaddle your baby (blanket wraps)
- Place your baby in a bassinet with radiant heat
- Use a hat to warm your baby's head
- Kangaroo care to provide warmth (holding the baby tightly to your body with the help of a harness or scarf)
Newborn babies who have low birth weight or are born prematurely often need an incubator or intensive care unit (ICU).
If these measures do not help in bringing your baby's low temperature to its normal level, contact the pediatrician right away or visit the nearest emergency room. Seeking prompt medical treatment when suspicion can prevent complications in the baby.
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