How to: take your baby’s temperature

There are many reasons parents would want to take their child’s temperature. Mostly though it is because of suspected illness. If you are reporting your findings to your child’s care provider, it is important to let them know what method you used to take your baby’s temperature. If doing it rectally or tympanically (in the ear) it could be as much as one degree higher and if doing it under the armpit (axillary) or temporally it could be up to one one degree lower.

We are going to go over the various methods so you can choose the best one for you and your baby.

Rectal:

This is the most common with brand new babies because it is easy to do while doing a diaper change. It is also considered the most accurate. A good digital thermometer can be found at most drug stores for $10 or less. Start by cleaning the end of the thermometer with soap and hot water. Allow to air dry. Coat the end of the thermometer with a lubricant (like petroleum jelly) and insert it into the rectum no more than an inch.

It is helpful to lay baby on their back with their legs up like you would while changing their diaper. This is comfortable for them and allows you to talk to them and distract them. Don’t be surprised if you baby poops as inserting something into the rectum can stimulate their bowls. If your baby is under 3 months of age, you should call your doctor for any elevated temperature.

Axillary:

If you are uncomfortable doing a rectal temperature then under the armpit (axillary) is an option. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests using this method on babies three months and up since it is slightly less accurate than a rectal temperature and you want a very accurate temperature on small babies.

Undress your baby from the waist up and hold them in your lap or cradle them in your arms. Place the thermometer in your baby’s armpits (make sure to make contact with their skin) and hold their arm firmly down or across their chest. For an older child, reading a book or singing a song is a great way to distract them.

Temporal:

Temporal thermometers are designed to read your baby’s temperature using the temporal artery running across your baby’s forehead. They are super easy to use once you get the hang of it. Each brand is different so it is important to read the directions carefully or check the manufactures website for directions.

The basic technique will have you place the thermometer flat on your baby’s forehead between the hairline and eyebrows. Hold down the button and swipe the thermometer in a straight line across you baby’s forehead without lifting it off your baby’s skin. Unlike hospital grade thermometers you do NOT want to swipe down the side of your baby’s face. Release the button after removing the thermometer off your baby’s forehead and read the temperature. Remember that a temporal thermometer can read up to one degree lower than an oral temperature would.

Tympanic:

Thympanic or ear thermometers are quick and safe, but can be a little tricky. If it is not inserted at the correct angle it can give inconsistent readings.

If this method appeals to you, you can ask your baby’s doctor to show you how to use it. You can also practice the manufactures directions until you get a consistent result. It is a good idea to confirm your results with a rectal reading until you are consistently hitting the mark.

You shouldn’t use an ear thermometer until your baby is at least six months old as the baby’s narrow ear canal can make it hard to insert the sensor properly

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