How to Take Your Baby’s Temperature, and Which Thermometer to Use
Consider this: you go to pick up your child from day care and find out that your child has a fever. You immediately start to feel guilty for not investigating his or her lethargy this morning! If you feel guilty for not being able to detect your child's fever as soon as it begins, you're not alone!
Since babies can't really tell us when they're not feeling well, parents often have to become detectives at unearthing any problems the child might be facing. Since every baby is different, you should try to learn the signs and typical behavior exhibited by your child when sick.
I know that when my toddler is starting a fever, the first places to get warm are the palms of her hands and soles of her feet. When I suspect a fever, those are the places I check first before even reaching for the thermometer. Most children become warm on the forehead or the nape of the neck first, so check there as well. Figure out what and where your child's signs of sickness are and you'll be on your way to early detection and appeasing that guilt!
What to Do When Your Child has a Fever
Your child is running a fever when his/her body temperature is above 98.6°F/37°C under normal circumstances.
Fever is not an illness in and of itself; rather it's the body's response to fighting invading germs such as viruses and bacteria. So don't be scared when your baby spikes a fever – your aim should be to investigate what may have caused it. Start with the obvious, such as does your child have symptoms of a cold (coughing, sneezing, runny nose), does he/she have an upset tummy (diarrhea, constipation), or is he/she in pain anywhere (e.g. ear infection).
Once you have determined that your child does indeed have a fever, you would want to measure it so you can tell their doctor and determine whether immediate medication is needed.
How Do I Take My Baby's Temperature?
The most common home thermometers used for babies and toddlers are those that take readings from the rectum or the armpit (axillary thermometers), although ear thermometers (also called tympanic thermometers) are quite popular with most pediatricians. Ear thermometers are extremely accurate and fast, but getting them into the right position in the ear can be a bit of a challenge when you have a squirming cranky baby on your hands. Babies are much too young for an oral thermometer.
Thermometers can also be divided into digital and glass. Glass thermometers use mercury to signal a fever, and they can be used in both the rectum and the armpit area. However, they may leak when damaged and are dangerous if the glass gets broken. Digital thermometers are faster, cheaper (under $10), and more accurate in detecting even a slight fever.
How to Decide Which Thermometer to Use
Count out a rectal thermometer if your baby has diarrhea or is otherwise sensitive to anything being applied in that area.
You can use an armpit thermometer when your child is likely to stay still for a minute or two or too listless to protest.
In both cases, keep the thermometer in for approximately 2 minutes, although a reading taken a few seconds earlier will still be fairly accurate.
Before taking your child's temperature, make sure he or she is not crying uncontrollably and is relatively calm. Wash a glass thermometer with cold water and dry it thoroughly before using it on a child. Make sure the baby's temperature will not be affected due to a hot drink, a hot room, a hot bath, or any other factor that might impair the reading. Wait 15 minutes for conditions to be normal before you take your baby's temperature.