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Our Baby's First Two Years
by Robert M. Selig, M.D., FAAP & Joann C. Cozza, D.O., FAAP

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How Do I Take My Baby's Temperature?

 

Obtaining an accurate measurement of your child's temperature requires some practice. If you have questions about taking your child's temperature, please ask for our help.

 

Several types of thermometers are available for taking temperatures:

 

1. Glass thermometers with mercury: These are the least expensive, take longer to record temperature, and require practice to read the temperature. If you have trouble reading a mercury thermometer, buy one with color zones. Glass thermometers come in two forms: oral (mouth), with a thin tip, and rectal, with a rounder and shorter tip. If a glass thermometer breaks, it usually causes no harm, other than a superficial scratch on the lining of the mouth or the rectum. The type of mercury used in glass thermometers is not poisonous.

 

2. Digital thermometers: Digital thermometers record temperature with a heat sensor and run on a battery. They take readings quickly (usually in less than 30 seconds) and display the temperature in numbers on a small screen. They "beep" when they are finished taking the temperature. A digital thermometer can be used to take rectal, oral, or armpit temperatures.

 

Where should I take my child's temperature?

 

Rectal temperatures are the most accurate means to determine if your child has a fever. Ear temperatures can also be used to determine if your child has fever. Taking accurate temperatures with an ear thermometer requires pulling on the baby's ear to straighten the ear canal. This is not always possible in babies younger than 6 months. If there is a question of accuracy, a rectal temperature should be taken for comparison. Oral temperatures can be used in children over 5 years, but temperature results can be affected by eating, drinking hot/cold fluids, and breathing through the mouth. Armpit temperatures (axillary) are the least accurate, but may be better than no measurement. A normal armpit temperature does not mean that fever is not present.

 

Fever strips (liquid crystal strips) that are applied to the forehead and temperature-sensitive pacifiers are very inaccurate and tend to miss fevers in many children. Feeling your child's forehead is also not accurate. Fevers less than 102 degrees F usually cannot be detected this way. Half of children who feel warm to the touch do not have a fever.

 

When discussing your baby's temperature, please use the number you are actually reading on the thermometer and do not add or subtract one degree.

 

If you start taking rectal temperatures when your baby is young, you will have less of a problem when he/she is older.

 

How To Take Rectal Temperatures

 

1. Shake the thermometer well to get the temperature below 96 degrees. Be careful to stay away from the sink when you shake down the thermometer so you will not break the thermometer.

2. Lubricate the end of the thermometer with vaseline.

3. Place your baby on his/her belly.

4. Place the heel of your hand over the lower portion of your baby's back and press down gently to hold him/her still.

5. Spread his/her buttocks (rear end) using your thumb and first finger.

6. Slide the thermometer easily (never force it) into the rectum so just the silver bulb is covered (1/2-3/4 inch).

7. Leave the thermometer in the rectum for two minutes with a glass thermometer, or approximately 30 seconds (until you hear a "beep") with a digital thermometer.

8. When looking for the silver line in the thermometer, you have to rotate the thermometer until the silver line is easily seen. Look for a mirror or reflection above the numbers and read the number where the mercury line ends. This is your child's actual temperature.

9. Practice taking rectal temperatures a few times when your child is not sick.

 

 

How To Take Oral Temperatures

 

1. If your child has had a cold or hot drink within the previous 10 minutes, wait to take his/her temperature until another 10 minutes has passed.

2. An accurate oral temperature depends on proper placement. Place the tip of the thermometer under one side of the tongue toward the back.

3. Have your child hold the thermometer in place with the lips and fingers, not the teeth. Clenching the teeth could break the thermometer.

4. Ask your child to breathe through his/her nose and keep his/her mouth closed. If your child's nose is congested, making it difficult to breathe through his/her nose, try using salt water drops to clear the nasal passage before taking the temperature.

5. Leave the thermometer in the mouth for 3 minutes with a glass thermometer or until you hear the "beep" with a digital thermometer.

 

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