Taking Your Baby’s Temperature: What You Need To Know

Everything You Need to Know About Taking Your Baby’s Temperature

I can’t explain a moment more full of panic than when you think your baby has a fever—especially as a first time parent.

I remember one fall morning listening to my son fuss and feel as hot as an oven. My shaking hands went to grab my super expensive temporal thermometer I received from my baby shower.

It probably would have been wise to thoroughly read the directions and actually remove it from the packaging prior to using it for the first time. But nope, a case of Mommy Brain struck again.

After the third attempt of trying to get an accurate reading (didn’t think 97.5 sounded quite accurate—also didn’t know that it had to actually be touching my son’s forehead—oops), I gave up and rushed him off to a facility around the corner.

Thirty minutes later, a temperature of 101.4, a body full of Motrin, and an ear infection later, we returned home.

I was mad at myself and also embarrassed at the fact that I couldn’t properly gain a reading on my thermometer.

I wasn’t sure just where to swipe it, how to control the settings—the whole thing was a pretty big mess.

I felt like a big, mommy failure.

If you are expecting or have just brought home your bundle of joy, don’t make the same mistakes that I did.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about taking your baby’s temperature, as well as thermometer options, so you’re prepared when their first fever strikes.

The Different Types of Baby Thermometers

Before you learn how to properly take a temperature, you need to consider the type of thermometer you’re going to be using.

Most can be used rectally, orally, or under the arm, although taking your child's temperature orally won't be an option until he's at least 3 or 4 years old.

How to Choose the Best Baby Thermometer

Not sure which thermometer is right for you? Check out our comprehensive guide to choosing the best baby thermometer!

Here is an overview of the three main types of thermometers:


This was the thermometer I initially used.

It measures temperature by activating an infrared scanner when the device is physically swiped across the forehead.

They are large and costly, ranging anywhere from $100 to $200 or more, depending on the brand, but the most recommended by pediatricians.


  • Records quickly
  • Easy to tolerate
  • Very accurate when used correctly


  • Expensive
  • Big and bulky


This thermometer can be used under the tongue, under the arm, or in the rear (just make sure each part has their own thermometer to avoid spreading bacteria).

It’s small, has a flexible tip, and is sold for less than $10 at local pharmacies.

It can be used on all members of the family too.


  • Results in a minute or less
  • Can be used in various places
  • Easy to cleanInexpensive


  • Each body part needs their own
  • Causes discomfort rectally
  • Could have inconsistent readings


This thermometer is designated to be used solely in your baby’s ear.

They are medium in size and cost around $50. Many parents use these well into toddlerhood as well.


  • Fast reading when positioned properly
  • Generally comfortable for user


  • Can be difficult to position
  • Wax can interfere with readings

How to Use a Baby Thermometer

When you’re ready to take a reading, here’s how it’s suggested you use each thermometer.


The mistake I made was not carefully reading the manufacturer’s directions. This is crucial for these types of thermometers.

However, they all do generally operate by the following:

Make sure the thermometer is flat on your baby’s forehead. You need to make sure it’s between the eyebrow and hairline.

Press the button and swipe across in a straight line (you must be touching their skin).

Do not release the button yet—lift the thermometer off their forehead (again, in a straight line) and view your reading.


Since digital thermometers have multiple uses, they can be operated in a few ways.

If taking a temperature orally:

Clean the tip with rubbing alcohol and wipe it with cool water and then dry it.

Slide it under your child’s tongue.

Press the button and wait for an alert to sound.

Remove and view.

If taking a temperature under the armpit:

Note: You may want to hold your baby’s arm down for them to make sure it stays in place.

If taking a temperature rectally:

Place your baby on their back.

Coat the flexible tip with vaseline.

Insert the tip about an inch into their rectum and hit the button to turn on.

Hold it in place until it beeps.

Note: This can be extremely hard to keep a baby or toddler in place for, so it’s recommended that two people help out on this job if possible.


If possible, use a Q-tip or wash cloth to clean out your baby’s ear and canal.

Prep the device by cleaning it.

Place the tip of the thermometer into the ear canal and press the button.

Hold it in place until the timer dings and view your reading.

Note: It’s suggested you take a temperature a few times in a row to confirm for accuracy and consistency.

Additional Tips & Tricks

Here are some additional tips to consider when taking a temperature and using a thermometer:

  • Never take a temperature immediately after you give your baby a bath or as soon as they wake up from a nap in a swaddle or under a big blanket since their body temperature may be elevated.
  • Always swab your thermometer with an alcohol swab for sanitary purposes.
  • Don’t have unrealistic expectations—your baby is not going to be able to hold a digital thermometer under their tongue.
  • Know the warning signs. Any fever above 104 degrees needs immediate medical attention!
  • If your thermometer comes with a cap, be sure to regularly clean that as well and keep the cap over top of the reading area/device.
  • Keep a spare in your diaper bag or car—fevers pop up all over the place, not just at home.
  • Fill out warranty information. Most high end thermometers come with a warranty—be sure to fill out your info and send it in so your investment is backed incase it malfunctions.
  • Hold your baby on your lap when possible to ease their nerves and discomfort when taking a temperature.
  • Invest in a doctor kit. Toddlers who start to show willpower and play up their independence tend to fight the temperature taking process—so, making taking a temperature fun by buying them a doctor’s kit and take turns modeling proper practice.
  • Use distractor items like a show, favorite toy, or tablet to help gain an accurate reading.
  • Trust Your Gut. If your thermometer is saying that your child is having a normal body temperature, but their behavior is telling you otherwise, or if they feel as though they are burning up, trust your gut—get them medical attention right away.
  • Check Your Batteries. Many thermometers run on batteries. So, it’s always smart to do a battery/power check every so often (especially during cold and flu season) to make sure your device is powered and ready to go.

Wrapping Up

Who knew there was so much to know about thermometers and taking a temperature?

It’s essential that you practice with the device of your choice prior to using it in a “real” situation.

You’ll be much calmer, more confident, and will get more accurate results!


Hi there, I'm Kate! I started Maternity Glow to be a place for new and expecting moms to come to for practical pregnancy advice, parenting tips, and baby care tricks.

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