Thermometer options can be confusing. Know the best way to take your child's temperature.
If your child feels warm or seems under the weather, it's probably time to take his or her temperature. Sounds simple enough — but if you're new to it, you might have questions. Which type of thermometer is best? Are thermometer guidelines different for babies and older children? Here's what you need to know to take your child's temperature.
A glass mercury thermometer was once a staple in most medicine cabinets. Today, mercury thermometers aren't recommended because they can break and allow mercury to vaporize and be inhaled. When choosing a thermometer, consider these options:
Digital pacifier thermometers and fever strips are not recommended.
Carefully read the instructions that come with the thermometer. Before and after each use, clean the tip of the thermometer following the instructions for your particular thermometer. If you plan to use a digital thermometer to take a rectal temperature, get another digital thermometer for oral use. Label each thermometer, and don't use the same thermometer in both places.
For safety — and to make sure the thermometer stays in place — never leave your child unattended while you're taking his or her temperature.
The best type of thermometer — or the best place to insert the thermometer, in some cases — depends on your child's age.
Rectal temperature. Turn on the digital thermometer and lubricate the tip of the thermometer with petroleum jelly. Lay your baby or child on his or her back, lift his or her thighs, and insert the lubricated thermometer 1/2 to 1 inch (1.3 to 2.5 centimeters) into the rectum. Alternatively, you can place your child on his or her belly on your lap or other firm surface. If you put your child belly down, put your hand against his or her lower back to hold the child in place.
Never try to force a rectal thermometer past any resistance. Hold the thermometer in place until the thermometer signals that it's done. Remove the thermometer and read the number.
When reporting a temperature to your child's doctor, give the reading and explain how the temperature was taken.
A fever is a common sign of illness, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, fevers seem to play a key role in fighting infections. If your child is older than age 6 months and is drinking plenty of fluids, sleeping well and continuing to play, there's usually no need to treat the fever.
If you want to give your child medication to treat a fever, stick to acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) until age 6 months. However, for children younger than age 3 months, don't give acetaminophen until your baby has been seen by a doctor. Never give more acetaminophen than recommended on the label for your child. Be aware that some combination over-the-counter medications might contain acetaminophen as an ingredient.
If your child is age 6 months or older, ibuprofen (Advil, Children's Motrin, others) is OK, too. Read the label carefully for proper dosage. Don't use aspirin to treat a fever in anyone age 18 years or younger.
Your child has a fever if he or she:
Keep in mind that an armpit temperature might not be accurate. If you're in doubt about an armpit temperature reading, use another method to confirm the results.
In general, contact your child's doctor if: