Taking An Accurate Temperature


When my first child was born, I read all the articles and books and learned that the most accurate way to take a baby’s temperature was rectally. Okay. And, trust me, I’ve taken baby temps that way. The “experts” said that getting a temperature orally isn’t really too accurate until about age three. I was resigned to this method.

Some friends and family advised us that we should get a tympanic thermometer so that we could check our son’s temperature quickly in his ear. It sounded like a grand plan. We made the investment and it promptly got relegated to a dusty shelf someplace. I have no doubt these devices are accurate in the hands of someone highly trained in their use. But, whenever we used it, we could get back-to-back readings of 95.3 degrees and 104.1 degrees in the SAME ear. This did not seem like it would be helpful.

When our daughter arrived four months early, one of the challenges in the NICU was to keep her body temperature constant. Babies that small have difficulty regulating their own temp, so the nurses constantly monitor it and adjust their isolette (incubator) settings accordingly. Taking your baby’s temperature (along with changing her diaper) are two of the first jobs you’re allowed to take on when you have a child in intensive care. So it’s exciting! I was surprised to see the method they used… axillary, or underarm. For these teeny, tiny babies where precision is important, this is the method they used.

So you know what? That works for me! If it’s good enough for the NICU staff and babies, it’s definitely good enough for our at-home needs.

Taking a temperature under the arm is quick, requires no lubrication, no undressing, and the child can easily just sit on your lap and read a book or sing a song. Checking for fever is no longer a big event around here. It’s also much easier to take a temperature of a sleeping child this way…

Just a few things to keep in mind if using the axillary method:

  1. Axillary temperatures tend to read one degree lower than oral. Rectal tend to be one degree higher. So if your child has a temperature of 99.2 under the arm, just know that that’s equivalent to 100.2 orally.
  2. Do make sure the child’s clothing is loose enough that the thermometer is touching skin on all sides and not cloth as this could affect the reading.
  3. Kids DO squirm. One of the easiest ways for me to get my children to comply with this process is to sing the following silly song as I weave the thermometer in circles to go under their arm:
“Here comes the bumblebee from the farm…
Going to get (insert child’s name) under the arm!!!”

That always earns giggles and cooperation.

The underarm method… it Works for Me!

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