How to Determine a Baby Temperature
When you suspect a newborn baby temperature, it can be frightening.
I remember when my firstborn became sick at only 4 weeks old, and how helpless I felt. When the first signs of illness appeared, it gave me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that didn't disappear until he was better.
A baby fever, especially in a child younger than 3 months, can be a cause for concern. A newborn's immune system is very immature and not as able to fight off infection as it will be in a few months.
What is a fever?
A fever in a baby is considered a core baby temperature of 100.4 F (38 C) degrees or higher. It is important that you obtain a very accurate reading since decisions about your baby's health will be made based on that reading.
There are a number of ways to obtain a baby temperature reading, but not all of them are considered accurate. They are:
- An auxilliary temperature is taken with a regular digital thermometer, but is held against the skin, most often in the armpit. This will usually yield a temperature one degree lower (or more) than the core body temperature.
- Ear thermometers are tricky to get an accurate reading in babies, since their ears are so tiny and placement of the thermometer needs to be exact. This type of instrument is not recommended for reading newborn temperature.
- Taking a temperature orally (by mouth) does not work with babies and toddlers because they are unable to keep the tip of the thermometer under their tongue long enough for an accurate reading.
- There are skin temperature strips marketed for taking temperatures, but these are notoriously unreliable.
- A pacifier thermometer is another option for reading infant temperature, but reviews of their accuracy are mixed, at best. For your own piece of mind and the health of your baby, skip these.
- A rectal baby temperature taken in your baby's bottom is the most accurate way to determine an infant fever. The other methods may be more appealing to parents, but unfortunately, none of them will be as reliable as using a digital thermometer in the rectum.
- Can't stand the thought of taking your baby's temperature rectally? The newest temperature-taking device on the block is a Non-Contact Thermometer. Great because you don't have to wake your sick one up to check their temp. Reviews seem favorable, so this might be a good investment. For me, the jury is still out...
Meanwhile, I still recommend taking the temp with a digital thermometer?
I know. It doesn't sound appealing!
Truly it is not hard to do. It is not painful for your baby, and with a little practice can be accomplished quickly. Before you know it, you won't even blink an eye about doing it.
Tip: Remember the mercury thermometers that our moms used on us when we were young? Forget about those! Digital thermometers are relatively inexpensive, safer, easier to read, and much faster than the old mercury ones. You will want to have one on hand. Be sure to label ANY thermometer that you use rectally, or "Dad" might unknowingly put it in his own mouth the next time he is sick. Can you imagine what would happen if he ever found out?
Step by Step Instructions and Tips for Taking a Rectal Baby Temperature
- Before you begin, change your baby's diaper to a clean one.
- After cleaning the thermometer with rubbing alcohol, put a small amount of a lubricant on the tip of the thermometer. (Most thermometer manufacturers recommend vasoline, but a healthier alternative would be coconut oil, or even vegetable shortening.)
- Find a comfortable position for you and your baby. Either put her on her back in the location where you usually change her diaper, or you may lay her on her tummy across your lap.
- Loosen the diaper, but keep it in place.
- Insert the tip of the thermometer into the anus approximately 1/2 - 1 inch. It should go in easily, so never force it, or you may cause serious damage. If this prospect makes you nervous, you should get a Baby Rectal Thermometer. Due to the unique shape, they don't allow you to insert them too far.
- Keeping the thermometer between your fingers, cup your baby's bottom with your hand. Hold it this way until the thermometer beeps (usually less than 2 minutes). This is where keeping the diaper in place may prove important. It is possible that between the thermometer and the fresh air, your baby may decide it is a good time to...ahhh..."void". Sorry - it's one of those dignities that parents surrender upon the birth of their newborn baby!
- After reading the temperature, clean the thermometer with soap and water, or rubbing alcohol.
If the rectal baby temperature reads 100.4 F (38 C) degrees or higher, this would be considered an infant fever. This does not necessarily mean there is cause for alarm, however, you will want to contact your child's health care provider for instructions on how to proceed. Remember that panicking is unnecessary, and will not help your baby feel any better. She will take her cues from you, so be calm. This will help her to relax, rest, and fight whatever is causing her fever.
Do not give a baby younger than 3 months old any medication (including acetaminophen/Tylenol) without first consulting with your pediatrician or health care provider.
Do practice taking and reading a baby temperature a few times before your child ever becomes sick. This way you will have confidence that your reading is accurate if and when that day comes.
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