Measure Baby's Temperature Safely
Latest update: September 14, 2018
Author: Heidi Holvoet, PhD
Measuring your baby's temperature is not
complicated but you need a safe and accurate way to do it. And you need
the right method in the right situation: sometimes quick and easy is
fine, sometimes you need really precise readings.
There are 3 different types
of methods to read temperature and/or check for a fever:
A simple digital thermometer
A touch-type ear or temporal
Touch-and-feel ... by you
– need baby awake and relaxed
+ quick and
no-fuss (even asleep!)
– may be less accurate
instinctive, good for 1st impression
– not degree-accurate
I recommend you get a good plain digital
at the very least. They are not expensive at all and a basic item in
your home pharmacy anyways. If you only have this, you're fine really.
Then consider whether you add an easy
thermometer to that. Both forehead and ear thermometers do this. Very
(!) quickly and without disturbing or even waking your child, you get a
good indication of your baby's body temperature -
fever or not.
Let's discuss each type in a bit more detail.
A digital thermometer
Takes a while to measure, cannot be done correctly while baby sleeps.
With this type you can measure under tongue, under arm or rectally.
Either way, measuring baby temperature like this can be a bit of
a fuss but you get
reliable temperature readings. And sometimes you simply need that: for
example to monitor fever during the critical phase an illness or
to help decide
whether to go see the doctor/ER or not.
to pediatricians, a rectal
measurement is the only accurate one
for under 3 years old. As long as your baby does not mind too much, it
is actually not difficult to do.
You just need her to lie down still for
a little while ... When you make it a quiet cozy moment with some
gentle distraction for your little one, that usually works well.
I remember not feeling comfortable in
the very beginning, to actually insert a thermometer ... now I know
it's not that bad, you just need a well-suited one that is absolutely safe for
Baby Rectal Thermometer is perfect for this: it's easy to
use, safe thanks to its short
tip (no risk of inserting too deeply so no injury risk). It is
designed for children up to 3 years old, and you can start using it
Tip: wet the tip with water or dip it in nappy cream for easier
and pain-free insertion.
Until which age you will be able to do this rectal measurement will
depend highly on how your
child reacts. Stop when she's absolutely no longer comfortable with it.
- As soon as she's 3-5 years old, you will measure under arm
(axillary) or under tongue
(oral measurement) more easily - and more reliably than when younger.
under the arm
(axillary) is the easiest alternative. Only slightly less accurate in
toddlers and up, it's not so
reliable in young babies: it is difficult to place it correctly under
baby's arm and to hold it there for long enough.
If needed, do a couple of test
measurements under arm and compare them
rectal measurement. This will help you get good feel for the numbers
you see and the accuracy.
Remember that under arm will consistently give a lower
result: most manufacturers list in their product manual how much degrees
A good plain digital thermometer like the Kamsay 10 second Read is safe to
use said to be safe rectally
baby, but you will be able to use it reliably under arm or tongue later
like its flexible tip.
There are also digital pacifier
thermometers for young babies. Easy but not very reliable
and not always practical (especially if your baby is not used to a
dummy, or refuses to keep it in for long enough).
thermometer: ear or temporal
types of thermometers give you baby's temperature in mere seconds
without disturbing her in any way. A simple forehead swipe or insertion
in the ear is all it takes. See my detailed reviews for measuring
baby temperature with ear
thermometers for more info.
Forehead kiss ...
and neck touch
Don't underestimate your own built-in thermometer ... a soft
kiss on the forehead tells most moms and dads very quickly if there's
some temperature happening, or no fever at all. Not precise (we
always carry our own body temperature) but very valuable for
Very young babies are not able to regulate their body temperature well.
At the same time over-heating is dangerous. That's why it is important
to monitor her temperature well, even when there is no illness of
fever. Touching the back of her neck with a couple of fingers is one
method many of us use. If all is well, that feels "just right": not
sweaty, not hot and not icy.
If the back of her neck feels really warm and moist, your baby is
probably too hot (not necessarily fever). Start with removing a layer
of clothing or covers and monitor closely. Do measure baby's
temperature with a digital thermometer as soon as you can.
that these instinctive readings are just that: a good first impression.
High temperature and fever
can be fatal in young babies so always complement with a digital
thermometer and consult a doctor when you find or suspect a temperature.