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Childcare 101: Taking infant and toddler temperatures

A doctor examines a young baby, held by her father, in a makeshift hospital on August 3, 2010 in Nowshera, Pakistan.
A doctor examines a young baby, held by her father, in a makeshift hospital on August 3, 2010 in Nowshera, Pakistan.
Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

One issue that comes up repeatedly in childcare is illness. According to the Mayo Clinic website, babies can have up tp seven colds in the first year. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Minimum Standards fever guidelines recommend excluding a child with a temperature at or above 101F, though many home daycares and centers have stricter guidelines. To avoid sending your child to daycare with a fever, it's important to know how to take an accurate temperature. Here are some tips:

Don't use an ear thermometer on a child younger than 3 years. Though they are convenient, and costly, it is difficult for an ear thermometer to get an accurate temperature from a baby or toddler's ear, simply because they are so small. Experts also caution that it can take a bit of finesse to properly operate a temporal thermometer (the wand-type that you sweep across the forehead) though one study suggests they are more accurate than ear thermometers in babies.

A rectal temperature is the most accurate, though the thought makes many parents uneasy. Luckily, studies show that taking an axillary (underarm) temperature is almost as accurate as a rectal temperature, if you remember to add one degree Fahrenheit or .55 degrees Celcius. Just be sure to avoid glass, mercury-filled thermometers for safety reasons.

  1. To take an infant or toddler's temperature under the arm, be sure to use a digital thermometer designed for use in the mouth or under the arm. Do not use a thermometer with a flexible tip as it will not stay in place under the arm.
  2. Place the infant or toddler in your lap facing away from you and raise one of his/her arms.
  3. Put the thermometer tip in the middle of the underarm and put the child's arm down over the thermometer.
  4. Press the button to start the thermometer while gently holding the child's arm down. You can also allow the child's arm to cross his/her chest if it is more comfortable.
  5. When the thermometer is finished, add one degree Fahrenheit or .55 degrees Celcius to the results.

For accuracy: don't take a child's temperature immediately after playing outside in the Dallas summer heat or immediately after bathing. With a little practice and one of the newer and faster digital thermometers, taking your baby or toddler's temperature will become quick and easy.

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