A Guide to Baby Thermometers

When a child starts to feel or act sick, the first thing most parents do is pull out the thermometer and take the little one’s temperature. However, getting an accurate temperature on an infant or small child means removing the diaper and getting a reading via rectum, which is never easy on an already miserable child. In fact, learning to take a rectal temperature is one of the many tricks new parents must master.

“We always check our son’s temperature whenever we think he feels hot to the touch,” says Matt Kraycar, a dad from Bluffton, S.C. “But getting a rectal temp is never fun.”

Baby thermometer accuracy is critical for new babies because a fever may signify an infection capable of overwhelming their system and causing serious problems.

The task of managing a wiggly infant while taking a rectal temperature is something that many parents look to avoid by purchasing an alternative type of thermometer. Today, thermometer technology has advanced far beyond the slender glass stick thermometers filled with mercury. Parents can choose from numerous high-tech thermometers with digital readings, alarm signals and even infrared sensors. And the new thermometers go in ears, mouths and under arms – everywhere but in the rear!

However, parents often question the accuracy of these different thermometers available on the market. Is a rectal temperature still the gold standard in accuracy? And how important is an accurate temperature reading?

Baby Fever Basics

Fever is one of the body’s natural defense mechanisms. It helps the body fight infection and overcome illnesses. But at the same time fevers make people miserable, especially babies.

Running a fever can make little ones, and even adults, so miserable that they stop drinking. This is dangerous because the human body needs hydration, especially when working overtime to get over an illness. So when you or your child runs a fever, the typical response is to administer an antipyretic, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. This will make your child more comfortable, but it cuts the body’s natural defense against the illness.

“If you reduce the fever, the child may be sick longer,” says Dr. Charles Shubin, director of pediatrics at Mercy Medical Center Family Care in Baltimore, Md. “But it may be worth it for comfort and hydration.”

Baby Thermometers: The Importance of Accuracy

Because fever is not caused by a disease itself, but rather by the body’s reaction to a disease, thermometer accuracy is not always critical in all children.

“You’re going to be treating the kid, not the fever,” Dr. Shubin says. “In older kids, it’s not usually useful to know the height of the fever, only how miserable the kid is.”

However, accuracy is critical for new babies because a fever may signify an infection capable of overwhelming their system and causing serious problems. In babies less than 2 months old, a rectal temperature of greater than 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit needs a doctor’s attention, Dr. Shubin says. This is why accuracy in infant temperature readings is so important.