Skip to navigation Skip to Content

Taking your baby's temperature

​There are preferred methods for checking your baby's temperature.

Fever indicates your baby may be sick. A high fever is dangerous and requires immediate medical attention.

Your baby's Marshfield Clinic doctor is the best resource for your child's health.

Where should a baby's temperature be taken?

Today's digital thermometers make taking a baby's temperature simple with quick results.

For best results in babies and toddlers up to 3 years of age, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends taking the temperature rectally, by placing a thermometer in the baby's anus.

This method is accurate and gives a quick reading of the baby's internal temperature. A newer method to measure temperature called temporal artery thermometry is also considered very accurate. It causes less discomfort than a rectal thermometer and is less disturbing to a newborn.

It measures the temperature of the blood flowing through the temporal artery, on the forehead.

Taking the temperature under the arm (in the armpit) is called axillary measurement. It may be used to "screen" or get an idea about whether or not any child has a fever. If it shows a fever, the temperature should be rechecked by a more accurate method.

Other types of thermometers, such as tympanic (ear) type thermometers, may not be accurate for newborns and need to be carefully positioned to get a precise reading.

Skin strips that are pressed on the skin to measure temperature are not recommended for babies. Touching a baby's skin can let you know if he or she is warm or cool, but you can't measure body temperature simply by touch.

Always use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Never use a mercury thermometer.

For infants and toddlers, be sure to use a rectal thermometer correctly. A rectal thermometer may accidentally poke a hole in (perforate) the rectum. It may also pass on germs from the stool.

Always follow the product maker’s directions for proper use. If you don’t feel comfortable taking a rectal temperature, use another method. When you talk to your child’s healthcare provider, tell him or her which method you used to take your child’s temperature.

Taking the baby's rectal temperature

Oral and rectal thermometers have different shapes and one should not be substituted for the other. Do not use oral thermometers rectally as these can cause injury. Rectal thermometers have a security bulb designed specifically for safely taking rectal temperatures.

  • Place the baby across your lap or changing table, on his or her belly, facing down. Place your hand nearest the baby's head on his or her lower back and separate the baby's buttocks with your thumb and forefinger.

  • Using your other hand, gently insert the lubricated bulb end of the thermometer one-half to one inch, or just past the anal sphincter muscle.

  • The thermometer should be pointed towards the child's belly button.

  • Hold the thermometer with one hand on the baby's buttocks so the thermometer will move with the baby. Use the other hand to comfort the baby and prevent moving.

  • Never leave a baby unattended with a rectal thermometer inserted.

  • Hold thermometer until it beeps or signals.

  • Remove the thermometer.

  • Wipe the bulb.

  • Read immediately and record.

  • Clean the thermometer with soap and water or rubbing alcohol.

Taking your baby's temporal artery temperature

  • Place the thermometer sensor in the middle of the baby's forehead.

  • Press and hold the scan button.

  • Slowly move the thermometer across the forehead toward the top of the baby's ear. Make sure it always touches the skin.

  • Stop at the hairline and release the scan button.

  • Remove the thermometer and read the temperature.

If a baby's rectal or temporal artery temperature is 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, call your baby's healthcare provider.

Request Appointment

Contact us for care

If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

Call: 1-866-520-2510

(Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.)

What Do You Know About Child Development?

Test your knowledge of child development by taking this quiz.

1. When riding in a motor vehicle, how tall should a child be to sit in a regular seat and use an adult seat belt instead of a being strapped into a car safety seat or booster seat?
2. For which of these should you call your doctor instead of trying at-home treatment?
3. Two out of 3 teen girls don't get enough of which of these in their diet?
4. How much has the rate of obesity in children increased in the last 35 years?
5. Menstruation can begin at which of these ages in girls?
6. It's estimated that 3 to 7 percent of American school children have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Which of these famous people is thought to have had the condition?