How to take a baby's rectal temperature

It's one of the less glamorous moments of parenthood, but an important one. Rectal readings are recommended by pediatricians for a reason and it has to do with accuracy.

Generally, parents with young babies have a few thermometers on hand - an ear or underarm thermometer for a quick read, and a rectal thermometer for when you need a second opinion. The rectal temperature is recommended by pediatricians across the board for accuracy, particularly for children under 3 months old.

If your thermometer shows an ear or underarm reading above 99°F for your baby, it’s a good idea to take a rectal reading as well to see exactly what you’re dealing with, as fever in an infant can be a real emergency.

But if you're a new parent and haven't done this before, don't worry - we've got you covered. Here’s a quick guide on how to help keep your baby comfortable for a great rectal reading:

  1. Always disinfect the thermometer first. Wipe the end of your Kinsa with some rubbing alcohol, or wash it thoroughly with soap and water. But don't fully submerge your Kinsa in water or run it under a faucet.
  2. For your baby’s comfort, consider applying a bit of petroleum jelly on the end to make it easier to insert.
  3. Place your baby on your lap or a firm surface, either on their stomach or their back with their legs lifted up to their chest. Think diaper-changing position.
  4. Hold them still.
    • If they're on their stomach, place your hand on their lower back.
    • If they're on their back, place your hand on the back of their thighs.
  5. Insert the tip of the thermometer inside the anal opening, but don't push past the end of the metal tip.
  6. Hold it between two fingers while keeping your hand cupped around your baby's bottom. You might need to squeeze your baby's cheeks together to hold it in place. The reading should complete in less than 10 seconds.

Remember, rectal temperatures tend to be about ½°F higher than oral readings, and 1°F higher than underarm readings.

According to the Mayo Clinic, fever is considered mild if the rectal temperature reads 100.4-102°F, moderate if the temperature reads 102-103°F, and high if temperature reads above 103°F. If you'd like to take baby's temperature again to verify your result, be sure to wait 5 minutes for a more accurate second reading.

It’s recommended that you call your doctor immediately if an infant less than 3 months old exhibits any sign of fever. At 3-6 months, call your doctor if your baby is experiencing symptoms in addition to a mild or moderate fever, and call your doctor immediately if fever is high.

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