Taking Your Baby's Temperature

Nurses will take your baby's temperature at the hospital to ensure that her body is "learning" to maintain a constant temperature. There is no need to take your baby's temperature unless you suspect that she is ill or has a fever.

Your baby's temperature can be taken rectally, under the armpit (called an axillary temperature), or with an electronic ear thermometer.

A rectal temperature-reading is the most accurate way to assess baby's temperature.

How to Take a Rectal Temperature

  • Calm your baby.
  • Place a small amount of a water-based lubricant (like K-Y Jelly®) on the end of the thermometer to be inserted into the rectum. (Do not use Vaseline® or other petroleum jelly, as this can skew results.)
  • Place your baby on her back, undo her diaper, and leave it under her.
  • Lift both feet with one hand and hold them securely.
  • Spread buttocks with the other hand & insert the thermometer approximately 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch into the rectum (until the silver tip can no longer be seen). Hold the thermometer between your thumb and index finger.
  • Press the start button, wait until the thermometer beeps and read the thermometer.

How to Take an Axillary Temperature

  • Sit with your baby on your lap.
  • Lift your baby's arm and place the silver end of the thermometer well up into the armpit.
  • Lower the arm and hold it close to the body.
  • Press the start button and keep baby's arm down until thermometer beeps.
  • Read the thermometer.

How to Take Your Baby's Temperature


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Electronic Ear Thermometers

The ear thermometers work by detecting infrared radiation from the ear drum. Although they are convenient, they have lost favor with hospital and clinic nurses who began noting discrepancies in the results, depending on technique, or amount of ear wax, etc. A study was done in Norway comparing rectal and ear temperature measurements on 65 patients. Even in the hands of nurses who were specially trained to use them, ear thermometers detected fever just 70% of the time that it was present, compared to 54% of the time when used by nurses who were not specially trained. Many hospitals consider both percentages to be too low, and ear thermometers are being phased-out in favor of Temp-a-dots, which are paper strips placed in the mouth for oral temperatures.

Important Note: Electronic ear thermometers start to become more accurate after baby is 6 months to 1 year.

More about Thermometers

Many state laws prohibit the sale or distribution of mercury thermometers. If you wish to dispose of one, do not throw it in the garbage. Bring your mercury thermometer (and any other products that contain mercury) to your household hazardous waste collection facility. Avoid using tape thermometers or pacifier thermometers. They are not accurate.

Your Baby's Fever

For infants less than 8-weeks of age, call your doctor or nurse-midwife for any temperature above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. For a baby older than 8 weeks of age, here are the guidelines:

  • Keep a supply of fever-reducing medicine such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Advil® or Motrin®) on hand. Follow the directions on the label and/or ask your doctor or nurse-midwife what the correct dosage for your baby is. (Never give your child aspirin.)
  • Encourage your baby to drink fluids: breast milk, formula, water.
  • If your baby has a high fever, call your doctor or nurse-midwife immediately. If the health-care provider agrees, try a sponge bath of lukewarm water to cool your baby down, being careful not to let her become chilled.
  • Never use rubbing alcohol to help cool your baby.

Important Tip for Parents: Find an all-night pharmacy near you and post the phone number near the phone. You may need to give it to your health-care provider if you have a late-night emergency.

Call your baby's doctor or health-care provider immediately if any of these signs appear:

  • Blue color around the lips and tongue.
  • Trouble breathing: more quickly or slowly than 40-60 breaths per-minute, or grunting or whistling).
  • A temperature at/above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or at/below 97.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Pale or yellow skin that is different from what you've seen before.
  • Crying that doesn't stop and cannot be comforted.
  • A noticeable change in activity level: unusually tired & unresponsive, or hyper and fussy.
  • Frequent or forceful vomiting.
  • Refusing to eat for more than 2 feedings.
  • More than 5 liquid stools per day if formula-fed, more than 8 if breast feed.
  • Fewer than 4 to 6 wet diapers in a day (once your baby is older than 3 days).
  • Unusual skin rashes, especially blisters.
  • Reddened skin or smelly drainage around the umbilical cord.
  • Bleeding, swelling, or foul-smelling drainage from the penis after circumcision.
  • Reddened skin on the shaft of the penis.

Should the following symptoms persist (and cannot be alleviated), call your baby's doctor or health-care provider.

  • Very hard, pellet-like stools.
  • A cough or cold that is constant or getting much worse - especially if your baby is less than 3 months old.
  • Yellow or green drainage from the nose.
  • Drainage from the eyes (other than tears).

When talking with your doctor or health-care provider, be prepared to answer the following questions:

  • What is your baby's age and approximate weight?
  • Does your baby have a fever? How was the temperature taken?
  • How long has your baby been ill?
  • What are the observable signs of illness?
  • Is there any other important health history?
  • Is your baby allergic to anything?
  • What is your pharmacy's phone number?

Warnings for Parents:

If you think your baby may have come into contact with a poison, call 1-800-222-1222. You will be connected with your local poison treatment and prevention experts. We also encourage you to visit www.poison.org

Near leave your baby alone in the bath or on the changing table.