Guide to Choosing a Baby Thermometer

After your first well baby check up at 6 weeks or so you are usually advised to buy a thermometer to monitor your baby’s temperature. This is due to the side effects of the vaccinations which your baby is given. A fever is usually a sign that your baby’s body is trying to fight an infection therefore, remember not to panic. If your baby’s temperature reaches 38˚C (38 degrees Celsius or 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) and above s/he is said to be running a fever. This however varies depending on where the temperature was measured from. That is, if you have measured your child’s temperature rectally (through the anus) then it is bound to be higher than an oral reading by around 0.5˚C. Hence, the above guidelines often apply to rectal readings but for oral readings a fever is depicted at 37.5˚C (99.5˚F) and 37.2˚C (99˚F) for axillary (under the arm) readings.

All these different measurements might be a bit confusing especially for first time parents, therefore before you leave the medical facility we advice you ask your attending doctor or nurse at what temperature you will be required to take action.

You might be tempted not to buy a thermometer on the premise that you can just feel your child’s forehead or stomach and tell whether or not s/he is running a fever. It is true that this might be an indication of an increase in body temperature but you cannot know how bad it is until you measure his/her temperature using a thermometer. It’s often advised to seek medical advice right away if your child’s temperature goes beyond the above guidelines and the only way to tell so is by using a thermometer.

If you establish that your child is running a fever, there are different approaches which you can take to lower it; namely:
1) Giving your baby a sponge bath; keep the water at a moderately warm temperature.
2) Giving your baby a pediatric approved painkiller. There are varying opinions surrounding this option as some medical practitioners’ advice using this as an alternative when the bath doesn’t work while others recommend giving it right away once a fever has been established. If you opt to take this approach it is important to first establish the required dosage for your baby as this varies according to age and weight, be sure to ask your attending doctor or nurse for the recommended pediatric painkiller and the appropriate dosage for your baby.

You can also help control your baby’s temperature by:
3) Dressing him/her in light clothing
4) Keeping the room cool (around 21˚C – 23˚C that is 70˚F to 74˚F). Most homes in Kenya often don’t have a thermostat, therefore try to assess this for yourself and open the windows or put on a fan to keep the room not too hot to break a sweat but also not too cold to make your baby sick.
5) Giving your baby plenty of fluids to drink. Warm or cool (room temperature) drinks could help raise or lower your baby’s temperature (depending on what you are looking to achieve) as well as keep him/her hydrated. Bear in mind that babies below the age of 6 months should be exclusively breastfeed therefore, you should give breast milk unless recommended otherwise by your pediatrician.

However, you should always seek further medical advice if you notice that your baby has a fever accompanied by any of the below additional symptoms:
1) Constant vomiting or diarrhoea
2) Seizures
3) Loss of appetite
4) Struggled breathing or wheezing
5) Severe headache
6) Stomach ache
7) Persistent fever (doesn’t go down regardless of what you do or runs for several days)
8) Skin rash
9) Sore or swollen joints or limping
10) Unresponsive
11) Swelling on the soft spot on the head
12) Earache or pulling on the ear
13) Stiff neck
14) Dry mouth
15) Sore throat
16) High-pitched crying and/or whimpering
17) Irritable

This list is not exhaustive, but overall if you notice any uncharacteristic changes in your child’s behaviour we recommend you seek medical advice immediately.

Now that we have established the importance of using a thermometer to measure your baby’s temperature and what to do once you have identified a fever we will take you through the different types of thermometers in the market to guide you on the best type for you and your baby as shown in the album.

NOTE: Before using any thermometer, be sure to carefully read the instructions to ensure that you are using, storing and cleaning it properly.
Also, always check the thermometer for any damage or breakage before use.

Types of baby thermometers:
1) Axillary thermometer:

• This digital thermometer is very simple to us with an accuracy reading of ~99.9%.
• It can be used to measure body temperature under the arm or in the folds of thighs.
• Most of these will beep within 60 seconds with the temperature reading.
• Some have the ability to store the measurements for the last reading.
• It also uses replaceable batteries similar to that found in a wrist watch.
• It is very affordable and can be found in almost all pharmacies which sell thermometers and some supermarkets.
• It is suitable for children of all ages and often comes with a container which makes it easy to carry around and store.

2) Ear thermometer:

• This digital thermometer is also quite simple to use with an accuracy reading of ~100%.
• Despite its high accuracy level this does not apply to children below the age of 6 months and most websites do not recommend its use for children below the age of 2 years.
• It measures the body temperature via the ear and comes with disposable thermo-scan covers to ensure hygiene in the event that it will be used by more than one child. This helps prevent the transfer of ear infections among children.
• It has the ability to record and save up to 10 previous temperature readings.
• It also comes with a light which allows for readings to be done while in the dark.
• It also uses AA batteries which are easy to change and when they run low you will be given an alert.
• It is not easy to find in most pharmacies and is quite expensive to buy.
• It is also a little bulky and might break easily if dropped.

3) Infrared thermometer:

• This thermometer is a non-contact digital thermometer with an accuracy reading of ~99%.
• It is often found in most hospitals as its non-contact element makes it quite hygienic to use.
• It is also able to give a reading within a couple of seconds.
• Some have the ability to store the measurements for the last reading.
• It is not easy to find in most pharmacies and is quite expensive to buy.
• It often comes with its own storage casing but it is a bit bulky to carry around.
• It is suitable for children of all ages.

4) Mercury Thermometer: 
• This is an old school analogue thermometer which is often found in pre-assembled First AID Kits.
• It measures the body temperature via the mouth, armpit or anus.
• It is not easy to use and has the possibility of being highly inaccurate since most people find it difficult to trace the Mercury level and the markings are also quite small.
• It is also very brittle and can break very easily which could be harmful to the baby due to the mercury leaking or chipped glass fragments.
• It is very cheap and can be found easily in most pharmacies.
• It can also be used on children of all ages.

5) Pacifier thermometer:
• This digital thermometer has an accuracy level of ~99.9%.
• It measures the body temperature orally via its orthodontic nipple design made of silicon.
• It is quite easy to use and since it mimics a pacifier it’s expected that babies will not be opposed to it but some mothers have mentioned it causing a gag reflex which may cause a sick baby some more distress while others may reject it and even spit it out before it finishes it reading.
• It has the ability to store the measurements for the last reading.
• It is very affordable however not easy to find in most pharmacies.
• It is only suitable for infants up to the age of 2 years.

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