Which Thermometer Is Right for My Child?

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Photography from iStockphoto.com

My son started acting weird on Tuesday. He kept coming to me and laying his head on my leg for a moment or two before continuing on his merry way. If I picked him up, he’d lay his head on my shoulder for minutes at a time. Even though he is the snuggliest of my three babies, he is not normally that snuggly. I knew something was wrong, but since he cannot speak yet, I had no idea what. Wednesday he started feeling a bit warm and just after dinner he started vomiting and did not stop for about 10 minutes. It was brutal and I felt so bad for him. His temperature rose and he was acting a bit lethargic.

I went to find our thermometer, but I could not get an accurate reading. It’s one of those forehead thermometers and it’s near impossible to get it to work properly because my son will not stop moving. I gave up on trying and just went by how hot he felt when I kissed his forehead. Since I do this often, I know what temperature he usually is, and something wasn’t right. His head was on fire.

When I was a kid, we had one of those mercury thermometers. It went under our arm when we were really little, and under our tongue when we were old enough to understand to keep our mouth shut while it was working. Now, though, the mercury thermometers are not recommended (due to potential mercury poisoning upon breakage) and there is a wide range of different thermometers to choose from.

So, which thermometer should I use for my wiggly 11-month-old son? I read more than a dozen articles about which thermometer was best for which age. The thermometers that were consistently not recommended were the pacifier thermometer and the forehead strips.

Infants up to about 6 months
With infants, it is hard to get an accurate reading by a forehead or under-arm thermometer, so a rectal thermometer is recommended. I am quite glad I never had to do this, as it does not sound fun for either party.

Older infants and young children
Although a rectal temperature is most accurate, if your children are anything like mine, good luck with that. Until a child can learn to use an oral thermometer, it is recommended to use a digital thermometer under the arm or an ear thermometer. It is often hard, though, to get an accurate reading with an ear thermometer because placement has to be correct and a child may have a buildup of ear wax. The temporal artery (forehead) digital thermometer was also mentioned, and it’s the one I have, but unless you can get your child to be absolutely still, you won’t be able to get an accurate reading.

Older children
When your child is ready and able to, using an oral thermometer under the tongue is recommended. Some kids are ready at four or five, some not until later.

For more tips on temperature taking, fever thresholds and more, see this handout from the Canadian Paediatric Society.

What kind of thermometer do you use?

Jen Wilson is a married mother of three super-awesome children—two girls and a boy—who range in age from 0-10. She enjoys photography, organizing, reading, TV, and sarcasm. She drinks her coffee black and dreams of one day owning a dishwasher. You can also find her on her blog, Hey Mrs. Wilson, where she has been writing about life in Saskatchewan since 2004.

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