I have learned to have my guard up when my mommy routine is flowing a bit too beautifully. BAM! Sickness attacks. The laundry and dishes pile up, workouts cease, and sleep becomes a faint memory. On these days, my mind is certainly not functionally optimally, but I have always been thankful for my nursing background that has helped me to feel confident in taking care of my little ones when they have a fever. If you have ever wondered which thermometer to use and how to properly use it, then this is for you... AND you are not alone. This is a question that I get asked frequently, and thankfully, it has a simple answer.
With an infant, you want an accurate temperature, especially if they are under 3 months of age. The binky thermometer was a really brilliant concept; unfortunately is it not even close to accurate. The best way to gain an accurate temperature in an infant? Rectal. Yes, I know... in the tush. A rectal thermometer can seem intimidating, but I can assure you that it isn't. Apply a small amount of lubricant or Vaseline to the tip and place it in the rectum of the child, no more than 1 inch. Depending on your child, this may require two people to prevent them from wiggling. If you use a multi-use digital thermometer rectally, this is no problem! Just designate it for rectal use only, even after disinfecting it (for obvious reasons). A rectal temperature is the best option for the infant stage.
Taking a temperature orally is fairly easy, effortless, and accurate, but this is not recommended until age 4-5. My best advice is to invest in a temporal thermometer for the toddler and preschool years. These are a pricier option, but there is a great reason for that. These convenient thermometers are very accurate (when used correctly) and easy to use. They actually swipe across the temporal artery making this a "core" temperature, similar to a rectal temperature. It is also easy to use and easy to clean. But think about this for a second... if you are getting a temperature via this method, and there is hair or sweat on the forehead, will it still be accurate? No. Lift the hair off the forehead, make sure the forehead is clean and dry, and then proceed. You hold the button down, place the thermometer against the forehead above the eyebrow and swipe toward the temple, avoiding the hair. I was trained to lift the thermometer and tap it behind the ear once you hit the hairline and before releasing the button; however, the instructions to consumers do not include the "behind the ear part." Either way, the thermometer is crossing the temporal artery.
An oral (mouth) temperature is a great option for school age children that can follow instructions and hold the thermometer under their tongue. If they are actively eating a popsicle, then clearly, this might not be the time to take an oral temperature. Make sure there is no gum or candy in the mouth either... especially if you are having trouble getting a reading. Kids are tricksters.
Axillary (armpit) temperatures are not known for their accuracy, but there may be a time when this is your only option. You can use a multi-use digital thermometer and place it in the armpit. Make sure the armpit is dry, or you may struggle with a reading. Typically, an axillary temperature can be up to degrees off the actual temperature. Just be aware of that fact. Tympanic (ear) thermometers can be more difficult to use and often give a wide range of readings. Again, this is just not your most accurate option.
Just a tip... avoid taking your child's temperature immediately after a bath, and never place your feverish child in freezing water or in an alcohol bath. Just don't. The do's and don'ts of treating a fever will be another conversation for another day!
Andrea worked as a Registered Nurse in a Pediatric Emergency Department for 10 years before leaving to be a full-time/homeschooling Mommy to her three beautiful and crazy children.