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How to Take Your Child’s Temperature
When your child appears ill, you probably first feel her forehead to see if she feels warm and may have a fever. Although observing how sick your child looks and acts is the best measure of how sick she is, her temperature can be an important piece of information for you and your doctor.

What are the types of thermumeters?

The most common types of thermumeters are:

  • Plastic digital thermumeter: It is inexpensive, accurate, and takes approximately one minute to register the temperature. It can be used to take an oral (mouth), axillary (underarm) or rectal (bottom) temperature.


  • Ear thermumeter: It is more expensive and not quite as accurate—the temperature reading can vary a little depending on the positioning of the thermumeter in the child’s ear—but it is generally adequate. The ear thermumeter has the advantage of giving a quick temperature reading within seconds.


  • Glass mercury thermumeter: This should not be used. If it breaks, it can leak toxic mercury vapor. Your local pharmacy may allow you to trade your old mercury thermumeter for a new digital one. Otherwise, take your mercury thermumeters to a hazardous waste collection centre, or call your local poison control centre or fire department to ask the safest way to dispose of them.


  • Other newer types of thermumeters include a dummy thermumeter (which a baby sucks on) and a temporal artery thermumeter (which is rolled across a child’s forehead). These thermumeters are currently being evaluated for accuracy. Ask your doctor for advice about them.

    How do you take a child’s temperature?

    How you take your child’s temperature depends on your child’s age, your type of thermumeter, and your comfort level:

  • For infants and toddlers: You can take their temperature with the ear thermumeter, or with a plastic digital thermumeter under the arm or rectally. Although the rectal temperature is considered most accurate, it can be uncomfortable for some children and it exposes you more to your child’s germs.


  • For children over 3 years: You can take their temperature with the ear thermumeter, or with a plastic digital thermumeter under the arm or in the mouth, if they can cooperate.


  • Rectal:
  • Clean the tip of the thermumeter with soap and cool water.


  • Put a small amount of lubricant (such as petroleum jelly) on the tip, and turn on the thermumeter.


  • Lay your child belly down across your lap with his bottom exposed.


  • Gently insert the thermumeter ½ to 1” into his anus. Hold the thermumeter in place by cupping your hand over your baby’s bottom.


  • When you hear the beep, remove and read the thermumeter.


  • Turn off the thermumeter. Wash the thermumeter and your hands with soap and warm water.


  • Oral:
  • Clean the tip of the thermumeter with soap and cool water.


  • Turn on the thermumeter and place the tip under your child’s tongue toward the back of her mouth. (If your child has eaten or drunk anything cold, wait a while before taking the temperature.)


  • When you hear the beep, remove and read the thermumeter.


  • Turn off the thermumeter. Wash the thermumeter and your hands with soap and warm water.


  • Ear:
  • Cover the thermumeter with a fresh plastic tip.


  • With one hand, hold your child’s ear steady.


  • With the other hand, gently insert the thermumeter into your child’s ear canal until you get a tight seal.


  • Press the start button, and read the temperature displayed.


  • Discard the used plastic tip.


  • Underarm (axillary):
  • Place the tip of the thermumeter under your child’s armpit, between the bare skin of the arm and chest.


  • Hold her arm tightly against her chest.


  • When you hear the beep, remove and read the thermumeter.


  • What does the temperature reading mean?

    Temperature readings differ depending on how you take your child’s temperature. The closer the thermumeter is to the inside of the body, the warmer the temperature it records. The following temperatures are roughly equivalent:

  • Axillary temperature of 100 degrees F.

  • Oral temperature of 101 degrees F.

  • Rectal temperature of 102 degrees F.


  • A fever is when the body temperature is higher than normal. Although we say that normal body temperature taken orally is 98.6 degrees F. (37 degrees C.), this is just the average. In fact, normal body temperature can range from approximately 97 to 100 degrees F. (36- 37.8 degrees C.) Body temperature is usually lower in the morning and higher in the late afternoon and evening. Fevers can be descoted as low-grade (100-102 degrees), moderate (102-104 degrees) and high (above 104 degrees). If a child has a temperature of 99 degrees F., it would not be considered a fever.

    How often should you take your child’s temperature?

    The best way to tell how sick your child is—and whether he’s getting better or worse —is by observing how he looks and acts. It is not necessary, and only bothers your child, to take frequent temperatures. Unless the doctor recommends otherwise, it is probably sufficient just to take your child’s temperature once in the morning and the evening, or when his symptoms change. If your child is sleeping well during the daytime or at night, don’t awaken him to take a temperature. Getting rest is far more important to his recovery. What should you do if your child has a fever? No matter what your child’s temperature is, he is likely to be only mildly ill if he is still alert, comfortable, playing, and eating and drinking well; and he may be more seriously ill if he is listless, irritable, and refusing to eat or drink. See the article, “Fevers: What You Need to Know” for information about whether and how to treat fevers, and when to call the doctor.