Baby thermometers: a quick guide
- Thermometer of Choice for Babies: VAVA Smart Baby Thermometer
- Kamsai Digital is the most accurate rectal thermometer
- The highest-quality forehead thermometer is the Exergen Temporal Artery Thermometer
- Braun ThermoScan Electronic Ear Thermometer is the leading ear thermometer
- The premier ear/forehead thermometer: iProven Ear and Forehead Thermometer
- Vex Baby Rectal Thermometer is the preferred thermometer for newborns
- Kinsa Smart Thermometer is the best baby thermometer for tech-savvy parents
- Best Non-Touch Thermometer: iHealth No-Touch Forehead Thermometer
- Best budget thermometer: iProven Digital
Is your little one feeling under the weather? Experts estimate that most babies have eight or more colds in their first year – yes! Suffice it to say, a baby thermometer is a must for all parents. Along with a stuffy nose and cough, you may also notice that your child feels hot. Keep in mind when it comes to children and fever: Any fever in a baby under 3 months of age should be reported to a doctor.
If your baby is less than 60 days old and has a fever, or even if they look sick (with or without a fever), they need to be seen right away. If your 3- to 6-month-old baby has a temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher—or any grade of fever that lasts longer than 24 hours—see your pediatrician. See or make an appointment with a doctor.
To measure the temperature accurately, you will need a reliable thermometer. AAP recommends using a rectal thermometer (inserted into the abdomen) for babies under 3 months of age, even though there are many thermometers on the market today. The AAP recommends rectal, axillary, or tympanic measurements for infants and children 3 months to 3 years of age.
Here are the AAP recommendations for thermometers as your baby grows:
|Less than 3 months||rectangle|
|3 months-3 years||Transverse, axial, tympanic|
|4-5 years||Rectal, oral, axillary, tympanic|
|5 years – adult||Oral, axillary, tympanic|
A temporal artery (TA) thermometer is another option for use with infants and children. In fact, recent studies show that they can be used as accurately as rectal temperature in infants when used correctly.
You may hear TA thermometers referred to as forehead thermometers because the temperature is measured by starting in the middle of the forehead and then moving the probe toward the ear. They are not the same as cheap bandages that are placed on the forehead – doctors do not consider them accurate.
How do we choose which thermometers to include?
You can cycle through all the thermometer options for your family. Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered. With AAP guidelines in mind, the following thermometers receive high marks from parents and caregivers for accuracy, quality and affordability.
Other criteria and considerations:
- Fast results, so you are not standing there for several minutes, trying to read on a bad child
- Multi-use design, meaning you can use it for a variety of readings, such as forehead and ear
- Washable and waterproof design, especially when it comes to the rectal thermometer
- Features like color-coded reading, no-touch design, and multilingual audio
- Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, the standards that medical devices must meet to be sold in the United States
- Money-back guarantee, in case you’re unhappy for any reason – because, hey, sometimes things don’t work as you might expect.
You may have noticed that the thermometers in this article are all digital. If you still have one of those old mercury thermometers hanging around your house, the AAP says to get rid of it. The glass in this type of thermometer breaks easily, and exposure to mercury in even small amounts is dangerous.
$ = less than $15
$$ = $15–$30
$$$ = over $30
Healthline Parenthood’s picks for the best baby thermometers
A key feature of the VAVA baby thermometer is its ability to provide peace of mind. Instead of feeling the need to constantly check your little one’s temperature, it alerts you when their temperature drops via a secure, silicone patch placed near your armpit. It takes 1.5 hours to charge for 24 hours of real-time monitoring.
Considerations: This is a very convenient option when you don’t want to disturb your sleeping baby but still need to monitor their temperature if you suspect they are getting sick. If you feel a temperature spike, it is better to act in another way (ideally using a rectal thermometer if your baby is less than 3 months old).
Best rectal thermometer
Kamsay Digital Medical Thermometer
Key features: The Kamsai digital thermometer has a soft flexible tip that makes it ideal for rectal use, although it can also be used orally and in the armpit. However, do not combine methods once you have used it rectally.
The manufacturers claim that it is 100% accurate and clinically tested. It is also FDA-approved. It has a fever alarm that will alert you if the result is too high or a simple beep that will let you know that the result is in the normal range. In both cases, your baby’s temperature will be displayed on the LED screen. You can set the thermometer to read Celsius or Fahrenheit.
Note: The 10-second result window may make it difficult to take a temperature if your child is sedated or uncomfortable.
The best forehead thermometer
Exergen Temporal Artery Thermometer
Key features: You need a gentle stroke across the forehead to read the Exergen temporal thermometer. It features a bright display and an indicator beep that you can turn on and off.
The company explains that this product has “proven” accuracy with use in more than 70 clinical studies. And if you’re worried about small cell batteries (and small things accidentally ending up in kids’ mouths), you’ll be happy to hear that this thermometer takes a 9-volt battery. It is also made in the USA.
Note: The small display is difficult to read in low light. There is no color-coded option for identifying fever. Some people say that the readings are “consistently inconsistent” and may be several degrees off (below) or that their thermometer worked for a saver.
The best ear thermometer
Braun ThermoScan Electronic Ear Thermometer
Key Features: This Braun Digital Ear Thermometer measures infrared heat emitted by the eardrum and surrounding ear tissue. It has a pre-heated tip for comfort and precision and a disposable lens filter to help keep things clean.
Reading takes only a few seconds, and reviewers appreciate the large display screen. There is also a memory feature that gives you a reference to your last recorded temperature. It comes with a 3-year warranty.
Considerations: The product description states that this thermometer is suitable for the whole family and “up to newborns” – it’s important to note that the AAP does not recommend using ear thermometers with babies younger than 3 months. And for the price, this thermometer lacks some useful features, such as a color-coded display and an audible fever alert.
Best ear/forehead combo thermometer
iProven Ear and Forehead Thermometer
Key features: The iProven infrared thermometer has two recording options – ear and forehead – and can take readings in just one second. It also features a fever alarm, backlight display, and temperature color guide. It allows you to save up to 20 readings in its memory.
This product comes with a 100 day money back guarantee.
Consider: Thousands of people have bought and reviewed this product. While most of the reviews are positive, many people say that this thermometer stopped working after 6 months to a year of use.
The best thermometer for newborns
Wax baby rectal thermometer
Important Features: The temperature reading is roughly that recommended for infants. New parents — well, anyone, really — might be worried about delving too deeply. The Vicks rectal thermometer is ergonomically designed and has a short, flexible probe with a wide base so you don’t have to go too far.
It also has a memory function that gives you your last reading and lights up (book light) when the reading is complete. Oh, and its waterproof design is designed for easy cleaning.
Considerations: The flexible tip may not seem very flexible, but that’s because it’s short. Some people feel that it becomes less and less accurate as time goes on. And despite being waterproof, the display can in some cases stop working well after submerging the thermometer in water.
The best baby thermometer for tech-savvy parents
Kinsa Smart Thermometer
Key Features: Looking for an app-enabled “smart” thermometer? Bluetooth-enabled Kinsa has you covered. In 8 seconds or less, this flexible-tip thermometer can take oral, rectal, and underarm readings.
Bonus points: It allows you to store this information – by individual family members – in your phone. Why might this be helpful? Consider doctor calls or visits, especially if you have multiple babies or children. The battery lasts for up to 600 readings or up to 2 years if used every day. (Pro tip: Even in our tracking culture, there’s almost zero need to use a thermometer every day when you’re fine.
Note: This thermometer works with iPhones running iOS 10 or higher and Androids running 5.0 or higher. The body itself is water resistant, not waterproof, so the company recommends cleaning it with alcohol on cotton swabs. Some people feel that this thermometer can be inaccurate, especially at high temperatures. You’ll need to enable location services on your phone to use the app, which may feel off-putting to some users.
The best non-contact thermometer
iHealth No-Touch Forehead Thermometer
Key Features: The iHealth Touchless Thermometer works within 1.8 inches of the forehead (aim for the center). One second is all it takes for its infrared sensor to read 100 data points per second.
With over 128,000 reviews on Amazon, it has a 4.5 star rating. Reviewers commented about being impressed with the speed, and that it made for easy temp-ting while their baby was sleeping. Some criticized that it was slightly less accurate than other types of thermometers, which is likely because it is an external method.
While a 2012 study concluded that non-contact infrared thermometers are reliable, researchers felt more studies were needed to confirm accuracy. Rectal is still the gold standard for babies – especially newborns. You may want to have a backup rectal method when using this thermometer with small children.
Considerations: This type of thermometer is used for quick readings before confirming with a rectal temperature because there is not yet much evidence of its accuracy. Remember: Rectal is most appropriate for infants and young children. While you can put the thermometer on silent mode, the actual beep of the on/off button is very loud and cannot be turned off.
Best budget thermometer
Key features: For about an Alexander Hamilton (he’s on the $10 bill), you can get a best-selling flexible-tip thermometer that reads both oral and rectal temperatures in just 10 seconds. (Always use a separate probe cover for rectangular readings.)
The waterproof design makes it easy to clean with soap and water. The display also provides a smile guide to help you read the temperature when the temperature is normal (smile), high (neutral) and high (discomfort). This device is also backed by the company’s 100-day warranty.
Note: When not adjusted correctly, this thermometer can be off by as much as 4°F, so be sure to follow the calibration instructions. If you are hard of hearing, it may be difficult to hear the beep that indicates when the temperature has been read. And despite the package’s promises, some people note that it takes more than 10 seconds to read the temperature — more like 20 to 30.
A comparison of the best baby thermometers
|price||Type of thermometer||Important features||thoughts|
|VAVA Smart Baby Thermometer||$$$||Very popular||
||May not be correct in small children
• Another type of reading may need to be followed
|Komisi Digital||$$||The best rectangle||Tip that is soft and flexible
as well as flexible •
• High accuracy
|• Results take 10 seconds
• May be difficult to use on squirmy infants
• Careful washing is required in case of use for rectal and oral etc.
|Exergen Temporal Artery Thermometer||$$||Best face||Fast and smooth forehead reading
• No cell batteries for safety
• Proven accuracy in clinical studies
|Difficult to read in low light
• Sweat can alter readings
• Results may be “consistently inconsistent” (low/high)
|Braun ThermoScan Electronic Ear Thermometer||$$$||the best ear||• Pre-heated tip for comfort
• Large display screen
• Memory feature
• Not for use on newborns
• Lack of value features (color code, fever warning, etc.)
|iProven Ear and Forehead Thermometer||$$||Best ear/forehead combo||• Read the ears and forehead
• Gives results in 1 second
• 100-day money back guarantee
|• May stop working within 6 months of purchase
• May provide falsely high readings
• Can be inconsistent
|Wax baby rectal thermometer||$||Best for newborns||• Works even for small children
• Ergonomic design
• Broad base for security
|The tip is not very flexible
• May become less accurate over time
• May not be waterproof as described
|Kinsa Smart Thermometer||$$||Most tech savvy||Oral, rectal, and underhand reading
• Reading in just 8 seconds
• Temperature readings stored in the app
• Incorrect at high temperatures
• Location services must be enabled to use the app
|iHealth non-contact forehead thermometer||$$||Best no contact|| No touch needed for temperature readings
• Reads 100 data points per second
• Quick results
|External readings may not be accurate
• A backup method may be needed for younger children
• On/off beep cannot be turned off, loud
|iProven Digital||$||Best budget||• Cost less than $10
• Oral and rectal reading
• Flexible tip
|• May close by more than 4°F
• Reading may take more than 10 seconds
• Reading beeps are silent
How to buy a thermometer
Again, there are five basic types of digital thermometers – oral (death), axillary (underarm), rectal (rectum), temporal artery (prehead), and tympanic (ear). Choosing the right one for you and your family depends on your child’s age, your preference and your budget.
A typical price range for a consumer thermometer is between $10 and $50. While there are more expensive medical-grade ones, like this $260 oral probe from Welch Allen, you can definitely get a reliable thermometer on the cheap.
That said, expect to pay more for features like speed reading, memory tracking, or multiple reading types. These features don’t always mean a thermometer will have better accuracy, so consider whether or not you need these extras for your family.
So, what to choose?
With newborns, you may want to start with a rectal thermometer and then use a forehead or ear thermometer as they grow. Plus, if you ever question the reading, you can use a rectal thermometer as a backup.
For older children and infants up to 3 years of age, you can choose between rectal, axial, or tympanic. You may want to consider getting more than one type if you have more than one child or if you want to use one, such as a rectangle, as a backup reading method.
- Digital thermometers are important. Glass and mercury are hard to use and read, and can be dangerous if they break.
- Comfort and safety features such as a flexible tip and wide base are essential when shopping for a rectal thermometer.
- Backlit displays or even talking thermometers are good options and will help you read (or listen!) at night or if you have poor eyesight.
- While pacifier thermometers may seem like a genius option, they’re actually not very accurate and can take a long time to capture a reading.
- Similarly, skin strips that read temperature may not be accurate on children.
Tips on how to use a thermometer
We can all be a little resistant to it – but always read the directions! It depends on what kind of thermometer you have in your medicine cabinet and how you should use it. Here are some general guidelines for type use.
- Wash the thermometer with soap and water or rubbing alcohol. Then wash well with warm water and let it dry. Wash hands thoroughly.
- Before inserting into the anus, lubricate the end with a little petroleum jelly or other lubricant.
- Gently place your baby on your stomach on your lap or another stable surface. Place your hand on their back to hold them in place. Or, you can have your baby face up with their legs folded toward their chest, resting your free hand on their thigh.
- Turn on your thermometer and then insert it half an inch to a full inch into her anal opening. Hold it in place with two fingers. It may help to cup your hand on your baby’s butt. Then remove the thermometer when you hear it beep, which indicates you’ve read successfully. Wash hands thoroughly.
- Always clean the thermometer between uses. And consider labeling it so you don’t accidentally use it for oral reading.
Tympanic (in-to) thermometer
- Make sure your thermometer is clean and if necessary, use a lid on the end.
- Gently pull your child’s ear back and place the cone-shaped end in the ear canal. You want to position it so that you are pointing it at the other side of your baby’s head.
- Once in place, turn the thermometer on and wait until you hear a beep, indicating that you have a reading.
Temporal artery (forehead) thermometer
- Make sure your thermometer sensor is clean and dry.
- Place the probe directly in the center of your child’s forehead. Press the scan button as you move the thermometer to one ear.
- Release the scan button and read your baby’s temperature.
Axillary (underarm) thermometers
- Make sure your thermometer is clean and dry. While this is not as important as whether you put it in the rectum or mouth, it is good for the maintenance of your device.
- Turn on the thermometer and place the reading end on your baby’s armpit. Make sure the end is touching your baby’s skin and not their clothes.
- Hold it in place until you hear a beep indicating that you have read.
- Clean your thermometer with soap and water or rubbing alcohol.Wash and let dry.
- Turn on the thermometer and insert it into your child’s mouth – backwards – under the tongue. You can finish it when you hear a beep that indicates you have read.
When to see a doctor
You may be wondering “how high is too high?” When it comes to fever in children. It depends on a variety of factors, including your child’s age, how they are behaving, and whether or not the fever is responding to treatment.
Call your doctor if your child:
- Is less than 3 months old and has a fever of 100.4 °F or higher
- Is between 3 and 6 months old and has a fever of 102.°F or higher
- Fever is accompanied by other associated symptoms, such as a rash or cough
- 5 days or more of fever
- Is not acting like their usual self (for example, not eating or seems lethargic)
- Shows signs of dehydration (no wet diapers, no tears, etc.)
- You should also tell your doctor if your child’s fever is not responding to treatment with fever medications, such as Tylenol.
Frequently Asked Questions
At what age can my child use an adult (oral) thermometer?
Experts generally recommend waiting until a child is 4 years old before using a digital oral thermometer. Before this point, your little one may not be good at holding a thermometer in his mouth, which can affect the temperature.
Therefore, for children under 4 years of age, it is best to stick to options such as rectal, axial, or tympanic readings.
How can I tell if the thermometer is not working?
Thermometer reading 92°F or 120°F? It’s good to question seemingly “closed” readings.
First, follow all package directions when recording the temperature and reading the results from your thermometer. Second, you can try the temperature of other members of your family to see what it looks like for everyone or just one person (remember: this will depend on the type of measurement you are taking).
If the reading is still questionable, refer back to the package instructions for accuracy. You may need to replace or reset the thermometer’s batteries.
What thermometer will my doctor use on my baby?
The type of thermometer your office uses on your child may depend on your child’s age and office practices. If you have concerns or questions, call before your appointment to ask what type they use and why. Whatever the case, you can always call your pediatrician with questions about your child’s temperature or possible fever.
There is a lot to learn in the first few years of your baby’s life. Don’t worry – you’ll understand this (and other things) and become a pro in no time.
It may take a few tries to take your baby’s temperature. If you’re looking for some pointers, try asking your child’s pediatrician or nurse at your next well-child visit. Your doctor may also have specific thermometer recommendations to share with you.