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Is your little one feeling under the weather? Experts estimate that most babies get up to seven colds in the first year — yikes!
Along with a stuffy nose and cough, you may also notice that your baby feels warm. Keep the following in mind when it comes to babies and fevers:
- Any fever in a baby under 3 months should prompt a call to the doctor.
- If your baby is under 6 weeks and has a fever, or even if they seem ill (with or without a fever), they need to be seen right away.
- Call or make an appointment with your pediatrician if your 3- to 6-month-old baby has a temperature that registers 100.4°F (38°C) or higher — or a fever of any degree that persists longer than 24 hours.
To measure temperature with accuracy, you’ll need a reliable thermometer. And while there are many thermometers on the market today, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends using a rectal (inserted into the anus) option if your baby is under 3 months old.
For babies and children 3 months to 3 years, the AAP recommends using rectal, axillary (underarm), or tympanic (in ear) for the most accurate readings.
Here are the AAP recommendations for thermometers as your child grows:
|Under 3 months||Rectal|
|3 months to 3 years||Rectal, axillary, tympanic|
|4 to 5 years||Rectal, oral, axillary, tympanic|
|5 years to adult||Oral, axillary, tympanic|
A temporal artery (TA) thermometer is another option that’s gaining support for use with babies and children. In fact, recent studies show they may be as accurate as rectal temperatures in even the youngest infants.
You may hear TA thermometers referred to as forehead thermometers because temperature is measured by starting in the middle of the forehead and then running the probe toward the ear. They’re not the same as the inexpensive strips that are placed across the forehead — doctors don’t consider those accurate.
Our use of the word ‘best’
All thermometers count as medical devices and therefore must pass certain federal standards. So really, no thermometer brand should be “more accurate” than another, though a brand may have more or less consumer trust behind it.
But people tend to prefer the features of some thermometers over others. And some types — rectal in particular — are known to be the most precise in general.
You may get dizzy scrolling through all the thermometer options for your family. Don’t worry — we’ve got you covered. Keeping the AAP guidelines in mind, the following thermometers earn high marks from parents and caregivers for accuracy, quality, and affordability.
Other criteria and considerations:
- Fast results, so you’re not sitting there for several minutes trying to get a read on a cranky baby.
- Multi-use design, meaning you can use it for different types of reads, like forehead/ear.
- Washability and waterproof design, especially when it comes to rectal thermometers.
- Added features, like no-touch design, color-coded reading, and multilingual audio functions.
- Approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In order to be sold in the United States, medical devices must meet FDA standards.
- Money-back guarantees, in case you’re unhappy for any reason — because, hey, sometimes stuff doesn’t work as you might expect.
You might notice that these are all digital. If you still have one of those old mercury thermometers hanging around your home, the AAP says to get rid of it. The glass in this type of thermometer breaks easily, and exposure to mercury is dangerous even in small amounts.
A note about consistency and accuracy
Look at customer reviews for any thermometer, and you’ll find at least some consistency complaints.
If you suspect your thermometer is inconsistent or inaccurate, contact the manufacturer. Many companies will allow you to refund or exchange faulty devices.
And for peace of mind, take your thermometer to your child’s next pediatrician appointment. There, you can check the reading against what your doctor gets with their device.
Metene Infrared Forehead and Ear
Key features: Makers of this Metene thermometer claim the device has been through thousands of clinical tests for the best accuracy — within a half degree in just 1 second. It’s also designed to be used without making contact with your baby, which means you can read temperature during sleep without waking your little one.
The display has large, backlit numbers for easy reading and uses color coding and beep signals to indicate fever. This thermometer also has a full money-back guarantee for 12 months.
Considerations: While recent studies show that infrared thermometers may be a good option, rectal is still the gold standard for babies — particularly newborns. You may want to have a backup rectal method when using this thermometer with younger children.
Some parents share that this thermometer is good for the price, but that they experience different temperature readings between ear and forehead uses. Others say it worked well for the first few months and got more unreliable over time.
Key features: The large lit display on this Kamsay thermometer makes it easy to read even in the middle of the night. It features a soft and flexible tip that’s comfortable for rectal temperature readings.
Not only that, but it also comes with probe covers to help keep things clean. (And it’s waterproof, so you can scrub to your heart’s content after use.) This thermometer takes just 10 seconds to read and has beeper alerts and a fever alarm.
Considerations: Some people feel that it may be inconsistent from reading to reading, which is especially frustrating if you need to track temperature over time.
Note: Never use the same probe cover for both oral and rectal use.
Exergen Temporal Artery
Key features: All you need is a gentle stroke across the forehead to get a reading for the Exergen temporal thermometer. It features a lit display and has indicator beeps that you can turn on and off.
The company explains that this product has “proven” accuracy with use in over 70 clinical studies. And if you’re worried about tiny cell batteries (and the tiny objects accidentally ending up in kids’ mouths), you’ll be happy to hear that this thermometer takes a 9 volt. It’s also made in the United States.
Considerations: The small display is difficult to read in low light. There’s no color-coded option (red light) to indicate fever. Some people say that readings are “consistently inconsistent” and may be off by several degrees (lower) or that their thermometer worked for several months just fine and then became inconsistent.
Braun ThermoScan 5
Key features: This Braun digital ear thermometer measures the infrared heat put out by the eardrum and surrounding ear tissue. It has a pre-warmed tip to help with comfort and accuracy and comes with disposable lens filters to help keep things clean.
Readings take only a few seconds. There’s also a memory feature that gives you your last recorded temperature for reference.
Considerations: The product description explains that this thermometer is suitable for the whole family and “even for newborns” — it’s important to remember that the AAP doesn’t recommend the use of ear thermometers with children younger than 3 months of age. And for the price, this thermometer is lacking some handy features, like a color-coded display and audible fever alert.
iProven Ear and Forehead
Key features: The iProven infrared thermometer offers two different recording options — ear and forehead — and boasts readings in just 1 second. It also features a fever alarm, backlit display, and temperature color guide. It even allows you to save up to 20 readings in its memory.
This product is backed by a 100-day money-back guarantee.
Considerations: Thousands of people have purchased and reviewed this product. While the bulk of the reviews are positive, many people say this thermometer stopped working after 6 months to a year of use.
Enji Happy Care Family Digital
Key features: With a quick 10-second reading time and accurate rectal, oral, and armpit reads, the Enji thermometer is great for baby and the whole family. This budget-friendly option also features a flexible tip, large numbers, and Fahrenheit and Celsius modes.
And it’s waterproof to boot — making for easy cleaning. The company also offers a full money-back guarantee on this product.
Considerations: While this thermometer does boast 10-second readings, the fine print reveals it may take up to 25 seconds in some modes. Some people say it isn’t calibrated properly out of the box. This means you may get a reading that’s up to 2 degrees below your actual temperature unless you calibrate it yourself using package instructions.
We hate to sound like a broken record, but if you’re going to use the same thermometer for rectal and oral use, never use the same probe cover for both.
Even better? Have one thermometer in your home that’s strictly for rectal use — and label it, so no one gets confused!
Vicks Baby Rectal
Key features: Reading temperature rectally is what’s recommended for the youngest infants. New parents — well, anyone, really — may be squeamish about sticking a probe in too deep. The Vicks rectal thermometer is ergonomically designed and features a short, flexible probe with a wide base so you can’t go too far.
It also has a memory function that gives you your last reading and lights up (backlit) when the reading is complete. Oh, and its waterproof design is made for easy cleaning.
Considerations: The flexible tip may not seem all that flexible, but that’s partially because it’s short. Some people feel it becomes less and less accurate as time goes on. And despite being waterproof, the display in some cases may stop working well after submerging the thermometer in water.
Key features: Want a “smart” thermometer with additional bells and whistles, like an app? The Bluetooth-enabled Kinsa has you covered. This flexible-tip thermometer takes oral, rectal, and underarm readings in 8 seconds or less.
Bonus points: It allows you to store this information — by individual family member — in your phone. Why might this be helpful? Think doctor calls or visits, especially if you have multiple babies or kids. The battery works for up to 600 readings or 2 years if used every day. (Pro tip: Even in our tracking culture, there’s approximately zero need to use a thermometer every day when you’re well.)
Considerations: This thermometer works with iPhones on iOS 10 or higher and on Androids on 5.0 or above. The body itself is water resistant, not waterproof, so the company advises to clean it with alcohol on cotton swabs. Some people feel that this thermometer may be inaccurate, especially at high temperatures. You have to enable location services on your phone to use the app, which may feel invasive to some users.
Dr. Madre Non-Contact Forehead Infrared
Key features: The instant-read Dr. Madre forehead thermometer features readings in both English and Spanish. It also has a silent mode for when you need to be quiet. And speaking of being stealthy, it takes readings without ever having to touch your baby. That’s right — it works with laser technology to record temperature 2 to 4 inches away from the skin’s surface in less than 1 second.
Considerations: This type of thermometer is best used as a quick read before confirming with a rectal temperature, because there isn’t much evidence on their accuracy yet. Remember: Rectal is most accurate with newborns and young babies. While you can put the thermometer on silent mode, the actual beep of the on/off button is very loud and can’t be turned off.
Key features: For approximately one Alexander Hamilton (he’s on the $10 bill), you can get a best-selling flexible-tip thermometer that reads both oral and rectal temperature in just 10 seconds. (Always use a separate probe cover for rectal readings.)
The waterproof design makes cleaning with soap and water simple. The display provides a smile guide along with the temperature reading to help indicate when fever is normal (smile), elevated (neutral), and high (frown). This device is also backed by the company’s 100-day guarantee.
Considerations: When not calibrated correctly, this thermometer can be off as much as 4°F, so be sure to follow calibration instructions. If you’re hard of hearing, it may be difficult to hear the beeps indicating when the temperature has been read. And despite package promises, a few people note that it takes longer than 10 seconds to read a temperature — more like 20 to 30.
There are five basic types of digital thermometers.
- Oral thermometers: Oral temperature readings are quick and usually fairly accurate for kids over 4 years old. For the most accurate results, your child will need to be able to breathe through their nose rather than their mouth while the thermometer is working. This can be hard for kids to do when they’re congested.
- Axillary thermometers: Armpit thermometers aren’t usually quite as accurate as other types of thermometers. However, they can give you a general idea if you’re not able to take your child’s temperature another way. These are OK to use for babies and kids over 3 months.
- Rectal thermometers: The best choice for babies under 3 months, these thermometers are designed to be used in the rectum. They can be a little uncomfortable, but they’re fast and very accurate.
- Temporal artery thermometers: Sometimes called forehead thermometers, these are quick and accurate. They can be a little on the pricey side, but are easy to use and won’t cause any discomfort.
- Tympanic thermometers: Better known as ear thermometers, these are quick to use and usually pretty comfortable. They’re a safe bet for infants and kids over 6 months old. Keep in mind that there are some drawbacks, though. Earwax buildup or an ear canal that’s small or curved can make ear thermometer readings less accurate.
Above all other things, consider your baby’s age when choosing a thermometer. You may want to start with a rectal thermometer and then use a forehead or ear thermometer as they grow. Plus, if you ever question a reading, you can use the rectal as a backup.
- Again, look only for digital thermometers. Safely dispose of any you might already have that are made from glass and mercury. Not only are they harder to use and read, but they may be dangerous if they break.
- Comfort and safety features like a flexible tip and wide base are must-haves when shopping for rectal thermometers.
- Backlit displays or even talking thermometers are good options and will help you see (or hear!) readings in the nighttime hours or if you have a vision impairment.
- The general price range for consumer thermometers is between $10 and $50. Of course, you can also find extremely expensive medical-grade ones, like this $260 oral probe from Welch Allyn. But you can definitely get a reliable thermometer on the cheap. If you’re looking for features like quick readings, memory tracking, or multiple reading types, you’ll need to pay more (but note that this doesn’t always mean better accuracy).
- Some experts don’t recommend pacifier thermometers. While they may look like a genius option, they’re actually not super accurate and may take longer to capture a reading.
- Some experts also say to skip those skin strips that read temperature. They aren’t accurate on babies.
We all may be a little resistant to this — but always read the instructions! How you use your thermometer will depend on what kind you have in your medicine cabinet. Here are some general guidelines for use by type.
- Wash the thermometer using soap and water or rubbing alcohol. Then rinse thoroughly with warm water and let dry.
- Before inserting into the rectum, lube the end with a little petroleum jelly or other lubricant.
- Gently lay your baby down on their tummy on your lap or another stable surface. Place your palm on their back to hold them in place. Or, you may lay your baby face-up with their legs bent toward their chest, resting your free hand on their thighs.
- Turn on your thermometer and then insert it about a half inch to a full inch into the opening of their anus. Hold it in place with two fingers. It may help to cup your hand on your child’s butt. Then remove the thermometer when you hear it beep, which indicates you have successfully taken a reading.
- Always clean the thermometer before storing it between uses. And consider labeling it so you don’t accidentally use it for oral readings!
Tympanic (in ear) thermometers
- Make sure your thermometer is clean and that you use a cover over the end, if necessary.
- Gently pull your child’s ear back and place the cone-shaped end in the ear canal. You’ll want to position it as if you’re pointing it at the eye on the other side of his head.
- Once in place, turn on the thermometer and wait until you hear a beep, indicating you have a reading.
The AAP doesn’t recommend using tympanic thermometers with babies under 3 months old. Even with babies under 6 months, the ear canal may be just too small to get an accurate reading.
You’ll also want to avoid this type if your little one has an earache or has recently bathed or been in the pool.
Temporal artery (forehead) thermometers
- Make sure your thermometer sensor is clean and dry.
- Place the probe directly in the center of your baby’s forehead. Press the scan button as you move the thermometer toward one ear.
- Release the scan button and read your baby’s temperature.
Axillary (underarm) thermometers
- Make sure your thermometer is clean and dry. While this isn’t as important as when you place it in the rectum or mouth, it’s good for the maintenance of your device.
- Turn the thermometer on and place the reading end into the space of your baby’s armpit. Make sure that the end is touching your child’s skin and not their clothing.
- Hold it in place until you hear a beep that indicates you’ve taken a reading.
- Clean your thermometer with soap and water or rubbing alcohol. Rinse and let dry.
- Turn the thermometer on and insert it into your child’s mouth — toward the back — under the tongue. You may remove it when you hear a beep that indicates you’ve taken a reading.
Oral thermometers can be tricky with infants and really any child under 3 years old. You may want to wait until your child is older — and able to cooperate with holding a thermometer fully under their tongue until it beeps — to use this method.
Also, you should wait at least 15 minutes after your baby eats or drinks to take their temperature.
There’s a lot to learn in your baby’s first few years of life. Don’t worry — you’ll figure this (and other things) out and be a pro in no time.
It may take a few tries to get the hang of taking your baby’s temperature. If you’re looking for some pointers, try asking your child’s pediatrician or nurse at your next well-baby visit. Your doctor may even have specific thermometer recommendations to share with you.