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Buyer's Guide to Baby Thermometers

With vaccinations, minor ailments and even teething causing raised temperatures, you'll be amazed how useful a family thermometer can be, from birth

Posted: 17 January 2008
by Laura Lee Davies

When I was expecting our first child, my partner mocked me for buying an ear thermometer. He thought I was presuming all kinds of terrible illnesses before we'd even had our son! However, it quickly became an essential part of our kit (much more so than many other silly things like the surface-clean only playmat) because a baby doesn't have to be seriously ill to get a raised temperature. Baby temperature can be affected by many things as well as serious illness:
Teething can push up their body temperature (though it's not neccessarily a cause for alarm and usually requires just soothing and keeping your baby cool).

Infant vaccinations can cause a baby's temperature to rise. (Injections are often therefore not given if a child already has a mild raised temperature in case they then get excessively hot, see preparing for vaccinations for more on this.)

Being overdressed in either warm weather or too wrapped up in winter clothes indoors can also cause dangerously raised temperatures.

Why do you need to know your child's temperature?
If babies get too hot they can go into convulsions.
Also, the basics of safe sleeping for babies include ensuring that a baby is not too hot.
If a baby gets too cold, he can get hypothermia. In some cases, this is still a cause of death in this country.
Babies, like us, get hot and cold all the time. If they get upset (and what baby doesn't at some point every day?) they will get hotter, for example. This kind of overheating usually passes quickly and should not be a cause for concern. Also, you shouldn't regard taking a baby's temperature as a daily routine, but only use it when you feel your child is very hot or seems otherwise unwell.
However, babies can't regulate their own body heat like us, so you do need to keep an eye on them. You can do this putting the back of your hand on their chest or back of their neck (not hands or feet as these can be much colder when there is no problem at all) to feel if they seem OK or not, before you reach for the thermometer.

What is too hot?
If a baby's temperature goes over 38 degrees C it is important to either bring down their temperature by taking off a layer of clothing, making sure the room isn't too hot, and/or giving them an infant suspension (medicine) that is suitable to their age. NOT before three months unless expressly prescribed by a doctor.
When a reading is over 39 degress C, or your child's temperature is over 38 degrees C for a sustained period, you should call your GP or NHS Direct on 0845 4647.
When you think your child is very hot or might be ill, having a reliable body thermomter to hand will help in communicating your child's condition to the medical professional you are speaking to.

Mothercare Forehead Thermometer

Different ways to take a body temperature
There are several different ways to take a temperature.
Experts differ on which they find more reliable. Where you take it from can also affect how hot a normal temperature reading is expected to be (there should be a range guide on the packagaing of the model you buy).
For children and babies (especially if they are ill and already upset or distressed), forehead and ear themometers are preferable because they are less invasive than oral or rectal temperature taking.

Ear themometers
The ear seems to best reflect the body's core temperature quickly and efficiently (the mouth for example can be affected by things like a hot or cold drink which has just been consumed). The blood supply to the ear relates closely to that feeding the brain's temperature 'gauge'.
Although a baby or child may not like having a thermometer put in their ear, it takes just a few seconds to read and you will hear a beep to tell you when a temperature has been read correctly.
You don't have to stick the thermometer right into the ear (which would be dangerous anyway), and most models come with little caps you put over the tip and dispose of after each use, to make it hygienic to use.
Ear thermometers are run on regular batteries but do not require much power. Most models will signal if their battery power is running low.

Forehead thermometers
The most basic forehead thermometers are easy to use but do require you to keep them still, on your child's forehead, for longer than than ear thermometer would take to do a reading.
Additionally, a forehead is more likely to be sweating if the child can have a fever, and this moisture will not fully reflect the body's heat.
However, these are cheap and easy to carry around with you if you want to keep on in your changing bag or on your travels, especially as they do not rely on batteries.

Scanner thermometers
Children and babies don't like being touched too much by strange looking medical objects, especially when they are unwell, so scanner thermometers can be an appealing option because they do not require any direct contact with the body.
This is useful especially when a baby or child is asleep.
The skin is very thin at the temple (side of the forehead) and therefore 'no-touch' thermometers usually work by taking an infra-red reading at this point.
Fans of ear thermometers still insist that sweat and surface heat is too much of a factor, but these thermometers are sufficiently accurate.

Boots Forehead Thermometer

Other features
Go for a thermometer which tells you, either by light or sound signal, that the reading has been correctly taken, as sometimes your baby's movement might affect the accuracy of a reading.
If the thermometer comes in a good storage box, all the better. This is a precision instrument and should be stored as such.
Many models of battery-powered thermometer have a feature where you can look back at the last six or eight readings – useful if you are watching your child's fever rise or fall.
If you are using one which requires disposable caps (see above), make sure it's a brand you can easily get hold of so you can buy refills easily.
You don't want to have to keep changing batteries, so get one with an 'automatic off' facility when it hasn't been in use for a short while.
Some models have a 'fever alarm' which means that once the reading goes above that which is regarded as a safe temperature, a light will flash or a buzzer will sound.

Best on a budget
Forehead thermometers that involve no batteries or digital read-outs are the cheapest options.
You can buy throwaway strips (these often come in baby safety kits which also include other first aid items), or reusable strips. The Mothercare Forehead Thermometer costs £3.29. Boots Feverscan Forehead Thermometer is easy to use and takes a few seconds to work. It gives temperatures in Centigrade and Fahrenheit and is also £3.29.
One nifty alternative to the forehead version is the 'pacifier' (dummy) thermometer, which reads an oral temperature while your baby is sucking it. Oral temperatures can be much higher than regular ear or forehead readings and have to be adjusted accordingly (see product's packaging for details). The Mothercare Digital Soother Thermometer costs just £7.99. (Their digital thermometer, which takes an oral or underarm reading, is £8.99.)

Mid-range thermometers
Braun have a range of thermometers. Their ThermoScan range is popular with parents and doctors' surgeries as it is fast and easy to use. The ThermoScan is compact, durable and takes an accurate reading in just one second. This retails for around £29-£40. It's not cheap but it will last well.
Boots' version of this is also easy to use and has a fever alert function, illuminated display and other useful features that come as standard on most ear thermometers. Their model, the Boots Digital Forehead Thermometer was £25.99 but is currently retailing for £12.99.
Tommee Tippee's Multi-use Thermometer can be used by measuring the temperature of the forehead or by scanning without contact with the body. This one is pocket-sized, has a massive 25 reading memory and you can view readings in Centigrade or Fahrenheit. It can also be used for 'ambient' readings (room temperature) and to gauage if milk is the right temperature before a feed. It is £24.99.
In this range many companies do a similar product. For example, Calpol (who make child medicines including ones which help lower high temperatures) and Mothercare both do a version for around £29.99.

High-tech solutions
Cheaper thermometers will give you accurate readings, but more expensives ones might be more convenient to use and have more memory facilities. These are usually the scanner and ear models.
Mothercare's Digital Fever Alert Forehead Scanner Thermometer, £32.99, is non-invasive, suitable form birth (as most of them are), and has a red light which clearly indicates when your child's temperature is deemed to be a fever.
Braun's ThermoScan ExacTemp promises to be the most accurate model you'll find. Perhaps this one's patented pre-warmed tip and 'Guideance System' to ensure an accurate reading are the real draw for parents. The pre-warmed tip means the coolness of the thermometer doesn't change the temperature of the surface it's measuring. (This is useful for fractions of fractions in terms of a reading but a regular thermometer is still reliable.)
Summer Infant's 'No-Touch' Forehead Thermometer is easy to use and useful because there is no direct contact with the child's body. It has an eight-reading memory store.
The Bosieboo Forehead Thermometer 'Mushroom' looks more like a plaything, which can be less alarming for small children. It retails for £29.49 and is a soft and gentle way of taking a ready. Bosieboo's Child's Forehead Thermometer is a scanner so it does not involve c ontact with the skin, and retails for £21.

Tommee Tippee Multi-Use Thermometer

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