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Taking Baby's Temperature

At some point during your child's first year, you will undoubtedly need to take his temperature. There are several options for taking a child's temperature, with varying degrees of accuracy and comfort. Which method you choose will depend on how old your child is and how accurate you need to be.

If your child is younger than 3 years of age, taking his temperature with a rectal digital thermometer provides the best reading. Although not as accurate, if your child is older than 3 months of age, you can take his underarm (axillary) temperature to determine if he has a fever. Ear thermometers are generally not recommended for babies younger than 3 months because their ear canals are usually too small, and oral thermometers are generally recommended for children 4 years and older.

There are a variety of thermometers on the market at varying price points. Digital models are the quickest and easiest to read. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against using a mercury thermometer - the mercury poses significant health and environmental risks. If you have an old mercury thermometer, do not simply throw it in the garbage where the mercury could leak, contact your physician or your local health department to find out how to safely dispose of it. Most new thermometers can be used rectally, orally, or under the arm; however, once you use the thermometer rectally, it's best to use it only for rectal temperature readings and designate another for oral and under the arm use. If your thermometer is not designed to be used in multiple areas, never take your baby's temperature rectally using an oral thermometer. Rectal thermometers have a security bulb designed specifically for safely taking rectal temperatures.

You don't need to take your baby's temperature regularly; but take it if:

  • He is especially irritable

  • His skin is hot, or he is sweating excessively or has a rash

  • His complexion is either very pale or flushed

  • His breathing is unusually fast, slow or especially noisy

  • He has a runny nose, is sneezing or coughing

  • His appetite is poor; he has refused more than one regular feeding

  • He rubs his ears, rolls his head or screams sharply

  • He is vomiting or has diarrhea, or the stool has an unusual color or odor (if there is diarrhea, take an axillary temperature instead of rectal)

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