Every mother has cradled a feverish baby in her arms in the middle of the night, wavering between giving in to the urge to rush to the emergency room and trusting her mother’s instinct to care for her child at home. But she can’t make the right call if she doesn’t have all the information.
When you suspect that your baby is sick, there’s no room for error. You need precision and accuracy to give you the assurance that you have all the information necessary to make the best decisions for your child.
Here’s exactly what you need to know when trying to find the best baby thermometer.
Why Do I Need a Baby Thermometer?
Babies need so much extra gear, it’s easy to assume that a baby-specific thermometer is just another gimmick. Though you may be tempted to use a thermometer you already have, that would be a mistake because:
- Regular oral thermometers aren’t appropriate because babies cannot hold them under their tongues. You may think you can use it to monitor a temperature under the arm, but that’s one of the least accurate ways to measure a baby’s temperature (1).
- If you have an ear thermometer, you need one manufactured for a small ear canal to ensure an accurate reading.
- If you have an older glass mercury thermometer, it can be dangerous if it breaks and the mercury is inhaled. Mercury exposure has been linked to neurological problems and other serious health issues (2).
Purchasing a thermometer designed with babies in mind will help keep them safe and ensure you get an accurate temperature reading every time you suspect a fever.
Types of Baby Thermometers
You have many different options when choosing a thermometer for your baby (3):
1. Digital Thermometer
A digital thermometer has an electronic sensor on one end and a digital read-out on the other. Digital thermometers can be used a number of ways: orally, rectally, and axillary (under the arm). It’s recommended that you identify and label your digital thermometer for either oral OR rectal use (not both) due to sanitary reasons. If you use it for taking rectal temperatures, be sure it has a tip designed to be used for that.
These are not the best choice for babies because:
- It’s near impossible to take an oral temperature on a baby.
- Axillary temperature is one of the least accurate ways to take a temperature.
2. Glass Thermometer
This looks like the typical thermometer you remember from your childhood. You place it under your tongue, and the mercury rises and indicates your body’s temperature.
Actual mercury is no longer used (if you have one in your home, dispose of it properly, so your family does not come into contact with the mercury), but thermometers are manufactured now in a similar design with a non-mercury substitute.
Just like digital thermometers, they can be used to take an oral, rectal, or axillary temperature.
3. Ear Thermometer
Ear thermometers take a baby’s temperature quickly by sensing the infrared heat that comes from the inside of the ear.
However, to get an accurate reading:
- The ear must be clear of wax build-up.
- It must be inserted correctly.
- It must be appropriately sized for the child’s ear canal.
- The child should be older than three months to ensure accuracy.
4. Temporal Artery Thermometer
Also known as a “forehead thermometer,” this type of thermometer measures the infrared heat that comes off the head by sensing the temporal artery in the forehead. Recent research indicates that they’re even accurate for newborns (4).
5. Oral Thermometer
It’s not recommended to take your baby’s temperature orally, because they don’t have the oral dexterity to hold a thermometer under the tongue to get an accurate reading.
This includes pacifier thermometers which are a combination of the two, and display a digital temperature read-out on the front. If you’re concerned that baby thermometers are a gimmick product, then this is it. Medical professionals widely agree that pacifier thermometers can’t be relied on to detect a baby’s temperature accurately.
We strongly recommend you use a rapid-read ear or forehead thermometer instead for best results.
6. Forehead Strip Thermometer
This is different from the temporal artery thermometer (above). While that is a handheld electronic device, these are disposable plastic strips that you place on a baby’s forehead, which then display a temperature reading. These are also wildly inaccurate and should not be relied on to inform serious medical decisions.
How to Choose the Best Baby Thermometer
When choosing a baby thermometer, keep the following things in mind:
- Accuracy: This is the most important factor, above all else. When you’re trying to detect a fever in your child, you need to know that the temperature you’re getting is correct. Choose a thermometer that medical experts agree is accurate.
- Consistency: There’s nothing more frustrating than taking your baby’s temperature, and then retaking it only to get a wildly different reading. When used correctly, readings should be the same over and over again.
- Suitable for Babies: Some thermometers can be used for all ages. Others need to be manufactured specifically for a baby’s body. Read through the specifics to make sure the one you’re choosing is appropriate to use on your child.
- Fahrenheit or Celsius: Which unit do you prefer to measure in? Make sure that the thermometer you choose will give you a reading in the proper units to avoid confusion.
- Speed: Babies don’t have much patience for poking and prodding. When choosing a thermometer, pick one that will only require a few seconds of wrangling. You don’t want to hold them down for a full one-minute reading, which will only make it more likely you’ll make a mistake and get an inaccurate reading.
- Complexity: This is a matter of personal preference, but do you want ease? Or do you like special features? The touch of a single button easily operates many thermometers. Others have additional buttons that allow you to save readings and display history. If you’re only trying to take your baby’s temperature, my personal take is that simple is best.
- Sound: I always recommend choosing a thermometer that makes a noise when the reading is done. We have one in our house, and I’m always trying to figure out whether I’m viewing an old temperature reading or if the current one is finished. However, some parents complain that one that makes a noise can wake a sleeping baby. It’s your call.
- Backlit Display: Make sure your thermometer has one of these so you can see it in the wee hours of the morning when you’re snuggling your sick babe.
Best Baby Thermometer Reviews of 2020
Here is our list of the best baby thermometers:
1. QQcute Dual Mode Thermometer
Forehead thermometers are a great new addition to the market. Using infrared technology, they scan the forehead for the temporal artery and read a child’s temperature. Using a forehead thermometer, it’s even possible to take your baby’s temperature while they sleep without disturbing them.
This ergonomic design includes a simple button activation and a large, easy-to-read backlit display. It also changes color when a fever is detected, making it simple to interpret and easy to read even in a dark room.
What’s more, this model is even appropriate to use on newborns but can be converted to use as an ear thermometer for babies over the age of one. It doesn’t need a disposable probe cover, and readings are taken lighting-fast in less than one second.
- Can be used on either forehead or in-ear.
- Readings are taken in one second.
- Choose between Celsius or Fahrenheit.
- It does not come with batteries.
2. iProven Infrared Lens Thermometer
If your baby is already under the weather, you don’t want to upset them further when you take their temperature. With an infrared thermometer, you can be sure you’re getting an accurate temp reading — without even touching them.
This thermometer can be used as either an ear or forehead thermometer. Either way, it takes a reading quickly (1 second or 3 seconds). Operating the device is a breeze since all you have to do is press a single button labeled “ear” or “head”; it leaves little room for confusion.
It beeps after the reading is taken, so you know that it’s done, and sounds an alarm when a fever is detected. It’s backlit so you can see in the dark, and the display is large and centralized, so you probably won’t have any trouble reading the numbers.
- Easy to use.
- The display is large and backlit.
- There is a fever indicator.
- It beeps when done.
- Waterproof and easy to clean.
- You cannot turn off the beep.
- It’s a more expensive option.
3. Exergen Temporal Artery Thermometer
Historically, a rectal thermometer temperature reading was advised for the youngest of babies. However, the introduction of forehead thermometers have given moms of sick newborns a quicker, easier, and less invasive option.
Little kids are constantly getting ear infections, so it’s nice to have an option that allows you to easily and comfortably take your child’s temperature when they’re sick with one.
While ear thermometers can be inaccurate during ear infections — or plain uncomfortable to the inflamed ear — a gentle swipe across the forehead with this thermometer will give you a reading that has been proven by Harvard Medical to be even MORE accurate than ear temperatures. Another study also showed it was as accurate as a rectal temp, which has always been the standard for infants.
An indicator will tell you if the scan was incorrect (ensuring accuracy), and a backlit display will let you see even if the room you’re in is dark. And with a programmable beeper, you can decide whether you want it to make noise or not, depending on how sensitive your baby is to sounds.
- It’s highly accurate.
- It can be used on a sleeping baby.
- It has a backlit screen for night use.
- You can program it to beep if desired.
- There’s no colored fever indicator.
- The display is a little small.
- It’s one of the pricier options.
4. Braun Ear Thermometer
Ear thermometers have an infrared sensor which gives a temperature reading within a few seconds, making them perfect for babies who won’t hold still for long. When choosing one, though, make sure it’s engineered to work with a baby’s small ear canal — and read the instructions to make sure you’re inserting it properly. And remember, they aren’t recommended for babies under three months, so don’t rely on one for your brand-new babe.
Though ear thermometers are quick and easy to use, they can be inaccurate if positioned incorrectly. This thermometer solves that problem by including visual and audible signals to indicate that it’s positioned correctly, ensuring an accurate read.
The tip also pre-warms to prevent readings from being influenced by external factors, and the flexible tip to make sure your baby stays comfortable. Readings are taken in seconds, meaning you won’t have to wrangle your baby very long to get a reading.
- It’s fast.
- It has a positioning aid for accuracy.
- You can choose between Celsius and Fahrenheit.
- The tip is pre-warmed.
- Easy to clean.
- It requires disposable lens filters (additional money).
- The screen is not back-lit.
- There’s no audible indicator after reading is complete.
- There’s no fever warning indicator.
5. Innovo Non-Contact Digital Infrared Thermometer
A non-contact thermometer lets you take a baby’s temperature without even touching them — meaning you can monitor their fever through sleep (or temper tantrums). Non-contact thermometers measure a baby’s temperature through the temporal artery on the forehead, so also look for thermometers labeled “temporal artery” or “forehead.”
This infrared device will measure your baby’s temperature, their bottle’s temperature, and your other kids’ temperatures in one quick second — without risking cross-contamination since it doesn’t even have to touch a person or object to make a reading.
It has a sleek display with a red fever indicator (if detected), and you can easily switch between an audible noise when it takes a reading, or switch it to silent mode.
The single button makes operation a breeze, and since you don’t even have to touch your child to take their temperature, you can do so without disturbing your little one’s sleep.
- It can measure human or object temperatures.
- You can choose a silent mode if you prefer.
- It reads instantly.
- It comes with a carrying case for easy storage.
- The display may be difficult to read on a white background.
- Some commenters found it to be inaccurate.
6. ANKOVO Forehead and Ear Thermometer
Fevers can spread like wildfire through a home and you don’t need to be rummaging around for multiple thermometers when everyone is sick. With this one, you can take everyone’s temperature quickly and safely. It offers both forehead and ear functions.
Simply choose which reading you’d like with the press of a button. The temperature is taken in a single second and then displayed on the digital readout so there’s no second-guessing. It even has a fever alert and will turn red at high temperatures.
We love that you can use the forehead reader on your littlest baby and then the ear reader on your older children. If you’re a mom with lots of littles running about, this thermometer makes life a lot easier.
Other features include Celsius to Fahrenheit conversions and a storage capacity of 20 readings. You’ll be able to use it for years to come.
- Dual-mode allows for safe and accurate readings on anyone of any age.
- Store up to 20 temperature readings.
- Fever alarm lets you know when baby’s temperature is too high.
- Because it can be used two ways, readings can be a little inconsistent.
7. Metene Medical Infrared Thermometer
When your baby is sick, you don’t have time to double or triple check their temperature. You need accurate and consistent results now. This clinically tested thermometer is FDA approved and can be relied on to give clear and fast measurements.
A lot of thermometers claim to work this way, but we like the scientific backing of this one. You can never be too careful when it comes to the health of your baby and family.
This thermometer takes both forehead and ear measurements. Forehead readings are especially good for when your baby is fussy or asleep. Simply swipe the thermometer across your baby’s forehead for a super quick measurement.
The backlight will flash green if your baby’s temperature is in the safe zone. If your baby has a fever, it will turn bright red. With this system, you can get the answers you need and take action fast.
- Backed by clinical testing and the FDA, so you can be assured of accurate results.
- Includes both forehead and ear measurements.
- Fever-detection system alerts you to high temperatures.
- Works best when your baby is a bit older and can handle ear measurements.
8. Vicks Baby Rectal Thermometer
Rectal temperature is widely believed to be the most accurate way to read a small baby’s body temperature. To ensure your baby’s comfort — and to make sure the reading you get is accurate — choose a thermometer that's designed for a baby’s small body, and make sure to read the instructions on how to accurately and safely insert the probe.
This thermometer was designed with your baby’s body in mind. The short probe guards against inserting it too far and causing accidental harm to your baby. And you’ll only have to keep them still for about 10 seconds before it gets a reading and shows it in the back-lit digital display.
Parents who use this swear by its accuracy and ease of use. So even if you’re hesitant to take rectal thermometer reading on your baby, if you’re looking to be assured that you’ve got the most accurate reading in the most non-invasive and comfortable way, this is it.
- It’s accurate, so you can trust the reading.
- Works quickly.
- The short probe prevents accidental injury.
- It has a backlight.
- Because it’s for rectal use only, this isn’t very versatile.
- There’s no audible indicator.
- There is no fever indicator.
9. Gear District Digital Thermometer
Sometimes you just want a versatile thermometer that’s tried-and-true. Stick thermometers can be used for everyone in your family and are suitable for oral, rectal or axillary (underarm) use. For babies, rectal readings tend to be the most accurate.
One of the biggest drawbacks of stick thermometers is their speed — they tend to be much slower than some of the newer infrared options. This one, however, will read a temp in 10 seconds, meaning you won’t have to fight your little one for long to figure out if they have a fever.
With a waterproof design, you can wash it thoroughly between uses, so illness does not spread among family members, and the single-button operation means that it’s ultra-easy to use.
The probe has a flexible tip, so it will be comfortable no matter where you use it — orally, rectally, or under the arm.
- It comes with disposable probe covers so everyone in the family can use it.
- It’s easy to use.
- It takes a reading in just 10 seconds.
- The probe is flexible and comfortable.
- It doesn’t have a backlight.
- Some commenters found the “beep” to be too quiet.
- It does not have a fever indicator.
10. DigHealth Digital Thermometer
An underarm reading is an easy and non-invasive way to take your baby’s temperature; it's even a suitable way to read body temperature for little ones less than one-month-old. When taking an axillary (underarm) temperature, make sure that the probe is securely touching skin (not clothing), and that you add 1 degree Fahrenheit to the reading to get an accurate temp.
This fun-colored thermometer might distract your child from the task of temperature-taking, but you’ll need to hold them still for 30-60 seconds to figure out whether they have a fever. However, with one single button, it’s incredibly easy to operate, and the display is large enough that you won’t have a problem reading it.
You can switch between Fahrenheit or Celsius depending on your preference, and the rubber probe is flexible for maximum comfort. It also has a fever alarm, and if the battery dies, it’s designed with an easily removable battery cap for efficient replacement.
- Changing the battery is easy.
- The probe is flexible, so it won’t hurt baby.
- Can change between Celsius and Fahrenheit.
- It has a large display.
- It takes a long time (30-60 seconds).
- It does not have a backlight, so will be tricky to use in dim light.
- Battery cover could pose a choking hazard.
How to Use a Baby Thermometer
When my baby was young and fighting a high fever, I started to panic when the display on the ear thermometer skyrocketed. However, after reading through the manual, I realized that I needed to allow two minutes to pass between uses so the sensor could return to a normal temperature.
I’d been taking readings in rapid succession “just to be sure” and then started panicking based on incorrect readings — simply because I’d never read the manual and didn’t know how to use my product properly. Oops!
How you use your thermometer will depend on the kind you have:
- For a rectal reading: Gently insert the tip only about a half-inch to an inch into your baby’s rectum (not simply between the cheeks!) and wait for the beep. A dab of lubricant can help, and you may find it helpful to have someone nearby to create a distraction so your baby doesn’t fidget too much.
- For an underarm reading: Remove clothing on one arm, place the thermometer high into the armpit and hold the arm back in place until the reading is complete. Make sure that only skin touches the thermometer tip.
- For a temporal artery reading: Place on the forehead, between the eyes, and press the button when your baby is still for a second. There’s no need for the device to touch your baby’s skin.
- For an oral reading: Position the thermometer under the tongue and ask the child to hold their mouths closed until the reading is complete. Make sure the tip is touching the tissue of the tongue, and not up against the teeth or in the open air.
- For an ear reading: Gently stabilize your child’s head, pull the ear up and backwards to open the ear canal, and insert the device tip inside; don’t jam it in but at the same time ensure that it’s touching the ear evenly, with the tip straight and not pointing up or down. Press the button, wait for the beep and remove. You may want to use a cotton swab with some alcohol to sanitize the tip after use.
Oral and ear readings are best used for older children (1 to 3 years old), and rectal or axillary readings are best for newborns and younger babies.
It’s a good idea to get two different kinds of thermometers so that you can confirm any reading. If the temperatures you get are quite different, take an average of both or wait a while to take another reading later.
Avoid taking temperatures over and over again, though, since it’s normal for even very accurate devices to have slight variations. Plus, you’ll only stress yourself out, and your baby might not approve of the extra poking and prodding either!
The Bottom Line
While there are a lot of choices on the market, our top pick for the best baby thermometer is the QQcute Dual Mode Thermometer. Not only is the display large and easy to read, but it changes color to notify you of a fever, and beeps when the cycle is complete to let you know a reading has been taken.
It can also switch between either Celsius or Fahrenheit and can be used either as a forehead thermometer (for your infant) or an ear thermometer (for everyone else). It’s the perfect all-around, easy-to-use, and accurate thermometer for your whole family.
Having a sick baby is never fun, but knowing you’re able to monitor their temperature accurately can give you peace of mind. Mother’s intuition is one thing — but making sure your baby is safe is another.
How do you take your child’s temperature when they’re sick? Share in the comments below!