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How to Use a Baby Thermometer

17 July 2012 438 Comments

We’re very pleased to welcome Kerri from BabyMonitorsOnline with this helpful post on choosing and using the right thermometer for your baby.

When you feel that your baby may be ill, one of the first things you could do is take your baby’s temperature. This is why it’s such a good idea to purchase a baby thermometer to keep at home. Sometimes the only visible sign that your baby is unwell is the crying. Babies use crying as a way to communicate with you when they are hungry, tired, or need their nappy changed, so crying unfortunately isn’t always an obvious sign that they are unwell. Some other things to look out for are: vomiting, refusing to feed, and changes in baby’s urine or stool. If you feel that your baby is unwell and/or your baby’s temperature is above (or below) normal, call your doctor for advice if you feel it is necessary.

How to take your baby’s temperature:

In order to take your baby’s temperature, you will need a good quality digital thermometer. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on one. All you need is one that’s easy to use, easy to read, and takes accurate readings. Some digital baby thermometers provide you with a reading within a couple of seconds, whilst others may take a few minutes.

When it comes to choosing a digital thermometer, you will notice that there are models designed for a specific area of the body, such as the mouth, ear, or rectum. Many models however, can be used under the arm, orally, and rectally. Digital ear thermometers, which are also known as tympanic thermometers, are designed for taking temperatures via the ear only.

You might be a little confused as to which area of the body is best for taking baby’s temperature. This depends, as with most things, there are advantages and disadvantages of each method. You may find it useful to discuss this with your doctor, so that you can agree on the best method for taking your baby’s temperature.

Never take your baby’s temperature after a bath or if she has been wrapped up in layers of clothes. If your baby is already very warm, this this could affect the readings. Wait at least 20 minutes to do the reading.

Types of thermometers available:

Ear thermometers

This temperature taking method is the simplest, quickest, and safest. It is also the most comfortable for your baby. When using an ear thermometer, you need to make sure you are using it correctly in order to get an accurate reading. Always read over the manufacturer’s instructions before using the thermometer.

A popular ear thermometer that you may want to consider is the Summer Infant Digital Ear Thermometer. This model is very simple to use, and it has a built in fever alert which lets you know when fever is detected. Familiarise yourself with how to use the thermometer by reading the instructions over a couple of times before using it.

Underarm thermometers

Underarm temperature readings are not as accurate as the other methods previously mentioned in this article. This is why it is not recommended to use underarm readings in baby’s under 3 months old. However, this method may be used with older children.

It is very easy to take an underarm temperature reading. Simply remove the clothing from your child’s upper half, and make sure the armpit is dry before placing the thermometer there. Place the bulb of the thermometer in your child’s underarm, holding their arm firmly against their side (this ensures the bulb of the thermometer is in full contact with your child’s skin. Once the thermometer has beeped, you can then remove it and take note of the reading.

Rectal thermometers

This method is said to be best for taking an accurate reading. If your baby is under 3 months of age, then it is especially important that you get an accurate reading when taking their temperature.

This method may not be the most comfortable for baby, but some babies seem to deal with this fine while others may make it difficult for you to take a reading. If your baby gives you too much of a hard time trying to get their temperature this way, speak to your doctor for advice. Always read the instructions on the rectal thermometer before attempting to take your little ones temperature. Generally, the instruction will be similar to the following:

Step 1: Wash your hands first, then soak a cotton ball in rubbing alcohol and use it to clean the tip of the rectal thermometer, rinsing the tip under cold water once you have cleaned it. Place the tip back on to the thermometer and wait a while for it to get back to normal room temperature. Then add some petroleum jelly to the tip to reduce any friction when inserting the thermometer.

Step 2: Remove baby’s clothing from the lower half of her body, then position her on the changing table or bed, or lay her over your lap (tummy side down with legs hanging down by your leg). You may want to place a towel under your baby as taking a rectal temperature reading may stimulate her to have a bowel movement.

Step 3: Switch on the thermometer and wait for the ‘beep’ or ‘light’ which alerts you that the thermometer is ready. Separate your baby’s buttocks gently with one hand, and insert the thermometer gently with the other. The recommendation is to insert the tip only a half inch into your baby’s rectum to prevent perforation. Some rectal thermometers are designed so that it can’t be entered any further than this, so when choosing one you may want to look out for one of these.

Step 4: Hold the thermometer steady once it has been inserted and use your other hand to hold on to your baby. Be careful if your baby starts to squirm as the thermometer could easily slip out.

Step 5: When the thermometer has signalled that it has taken a reading (usually a beep), you can then remove the thermometer and write down the reading so that you don’t forget it.

Step 6: Clean your baby’s bottom and then replace her nappy and clothing.

Step 7: Sterilise the thermometer after you have finished using it by washing it in warm soapy water. You should then clean it more thoroughly by soaking a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol and cleaning it with that. Once it is clean, rinse it in cool water and then store it away.

Other temperature taking methods

Another method of taking a temperature is with an oral thermometer. This is not recommended for babies, but can be used when your child is a bit older.

Another method is a pacifier baby thermometer. However, those are usually not very accurate. These types of thermometer look like a normal pacifier, except with a digital temperature display on the front.

All in all, the best type of thermometer to use for babies under 3 months is the rectal thermometer because it will give the most accurate reading, although for ease of use and non-invasiveness, you may prefer a digital ear thermometer which also has a high rate of accuracy. When your child is older the ear thermometers or oral thermometers are most recommended.


About the Author: Kerri Bullock is the founder of online baby store babymonitorsonline.co.uk BabyMonitorsOnline sell a range of baby monitors, baby thermometers, and other safety products.