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Measuring a Baby's Temperature

Where should a baby's temperature be taken?

Today's digital thermometers make taking a baby's temperature simple, with quick results. For best results in babies and toddlers up to 3 years of age, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends taking the temperature rectally, by placing a thermometer in the baby's anus. This method is accurate and gives a quick reading of the baby's internal temperature. Axillary (underarm) temperature measurements may be used for babies ages 3 months and older. Other types of thermometers, such as tympanic (ear) type thermometers, may not be accurate for newborns and require careful positioning to get a precise reading. Skin strips that are pressed on the skin to measure temperature are not recommended for babies. Touching a baby's skin can let you know if he or she is warm or cool, but you cannot measure body temperature simply by touch.

A new type of thermometer, called temporal artery thermometry, is considered very accurate. It causes less discomfort than a rectal thermometer and is less disturbing to a newborn. It measures the temperature of the blood flowing through the temporal artery, on the forehead.  

Taking the baby's rectal temperature

Oral and rectal thermometers have different shapes and one should not be substituted for the other. Do not use oral thermometers rectally as these can cause injury. Rectal thermometers have a security bulb designed specifically for safely taking rectal temperatures.

  • Place the baby across your lap or changing table, on his or her abdomen, facing down. Place your hand nearest the baby's head on his or her lower back and separate the baby's buttocks with your thumb and forefinger.

  • Using your other hand, gently insert the lubricated bulb end of the thermometer one-half to one inch, or just past the anal sphincter muscle.

  • The thermometer should be pointed towards the child's navel.

  • Hold the thermometer with one hand on the baby's buttocks so the thermometer will move with the baby. Use the other hand to comfort the baby and prevent moving.

  • Never leave a baby unattended with a rectal thermometer inserted.

  • Hold thermometer until it beeps or signals.

  • Remove the thermometer.

  • Wipe the bulb.

  • Read immediately and record.

  • Clean the thermometer with soap and water or rubbing alcohol.

If a baby's temperature is 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, call your baby's doctor immediately.

Measuring a Baby's Temperature - WellSpan Health

Online Medical Reviewer: Dozier, Tennille, RN, BSN, RDMS
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
© 2014 WellSpan Health. All Rights Reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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