When our first baby was born, we probably checked his temperature once every couple of weeks, constantly thinking he might have a fever that we didn't want to miss. Fussy? Warm forehead? Sleeping at irregular times? Waking during the night? Check for a fever! And if that wasn't enough, once he actually had a fever we monitored it like crazy people to make sure it didn't worsen and the medicine was working. With all the paranoia, it's not surprising we went through baby thermometers like diapers. We tried the rectal ones, forehead (called "temporal") ones, oral/mouth ones, and the ear (called "tympanic") ones. After years of use we are happy to say that we not only have gotten out of the fever phase (fingers crossed!) but also did the work for you in figuring out which ones are the best.
What to look for in a baby thermometer. First of all, you want the thermometer to be accurate. What that means is that you want it to take a semi-reliable reading, likely within +/- 0.2 degrees of your baby's temperature. Second, you want the thermometer to be reliable. What this means is that it will accurately read your baby's temperature if you used it 5 times in a row - instead of giving a different reading every time, you want it to be stable. Third, you want the thermometer to be fast. No parent wants to hold a thermometer anywhere for over 10-15 seconds, especially not with a fussy baby who doesn't feel good to begin with. Finally, you want it to be convenient and easy to use. You do not want to take out the instructions every time to figure out how to use it, change the batteries every few weeks, or have something so bulky or fragile that you can't easily take it with you when traveling. Note that we do not recommend any of the traditional glass and mercury thermometers; they are fragile, dangerous, and sometimes take forever to get an accurate reading.
The gold standard method for accurately measuring your baby's temperature has always been the rectal thermometer. To use a rectal thermometer, you need to insert the thermometer about a half-inch into the rectum and wait about 10-15 seconds for the temperature to be read. Awkward and frustrating at the same time, especially with a squirming and fussy baby. If you are willing to go through with rectal, many pediatricians recommend shifting to another method (like oral, forehead, or ear) after your baby turns 3.
Here are the best thermometers of 2017.
#1 Best Rectal Thermometer: Rivieta TherMOMeter. If you're going to use the rectal method, which we do recommend with a baby under 1 year old, this is the thermometer to check out. This is the the best thermometer we've ever tested! First, it gives very fast and accurate readings. In our testing, most readings took about 5 seconds, with the longest being just under 10 seconds. Second, it's flexible and can be used as a rectal thermometer, an axial thermometer (armpit), or an oral thermometer for when you're dealing with an older kid (or yourself!). Third, it has some awesome features: it glows to let you know when a fever is detected, it has large and easy to read numbersand it has a smooth and flexible design. Finally, what really sold us on this thermometer is that it's dishwasher safe! That's right - you can put it on the top rack to wash and disinfect! Note that this thermometer can be used with or without a probe cover (these covers fit perfectly) for sanitary issues. Also, when we received ours it was showing temperature in Celcius; to switch it to Fahrenheit was very easy, just check inside the instruction manual. Overall, this is an excellent buy.
#2 Best Rectal Thermometer: Vicks Baby Rectal Thermometer (model V934). Here is the second best rectal thermometer we could find. Note that this is really only good for rectal use: it is shaped the way it is to prevent over-insertion, so it is too short for other uses. This is one of the best-selling rectal baby thermometer on the market in 2017, and for some really good reasons. It is a fast, accurate, and reliable thermometer that takes only about 10-15 seconds to get a good reading with. And the reading is actually very good. There are some great features here. First, using it is simple: you turn it on, wait a couple seconds (it will first show what your last reading was), and then when the screen shows dashes it is ready to use. You want to put on a little bit of lubricant on it, then you're ready. Gently insert it into your baby's rectum, no more than one half inch. This thermometer is great because you simply want to put in the entire shiny metal portion of the probe, so this takes out the guess-work and keeps you from putting it in too deep and harming your baby. Once it has an accurate reading it will beep and the screen will light up. Takes about 15 seconds total to get an accurate reading. So it's not quite as fast as the therMOMeter, but it is very accurate (normal is about 98 to 100 degrees), portable, and pretty easy to use. Several others on the market tend to take longer to get a reading, are less accurate, and tend to stop working after a few months.
#1 Best Forehead Thermometer: Vive Clinical Forehead Thermometer. This FDA Approved infrared thermometer is truly awesome and highly recommended overall for a versatile, accurate, and fast thermometer. This is a contact-free thermometer, which means that you don't even need to put it physically on the forehead. Instead, you point it at the forehead and make a left-right sweeping motion. It uses infrared light to measure hospital-grade accurate temperatures. But here's the best part: it gives you an accurate read in about 2 seconds or so! Simply hold it about 3/4 to 1 inch from the forehead, starting on one side and sweeping it over to the other. Not only is it super fast and accurate, it's also really easy to use and definitely the most versatile one on this list. In terms of ease of use, it has a nice back-lit display that you can easily read even in dark rooms. It has intuitive buttons, one to switch from Celcius to Fahrenheit, one to change the mode (more on that later), and one to mute it so there are no beeps to wake a sleeping baby. When you do a reading, it shows you what it's measuring continuously, and at the end it shows you the highest read temperature. Now back to the modes. Here's the cool thing: infrared light can measure the temperature of anything in your house. Want to measure the temperature of your baby's room? Put it on the room setting and check it out! Want to measure the temperature of that bottle of milk you just warmed? Put it on the object setting and check it out! Any object you want to measure the temperature of, you can now do at the tip of your fingers. So not only is this a super accurate and well made forehead thermometer, you can also use it for a ton of other uses around the house. Overall, this is the best forehead thermometer on the market, and we highly recommend it!
#2 Best Forehead Thermometer: iProven Medical DMT-489. This FDA Approved thermometer is relateively new to the market, and it has really been making waves. If you are timid or otherwise uncomfortable with using a rectal thermometer, this is a good the option for you. We will warn you, however, that many pediatricians might require you to use a rectal thermometer if you're calling them to report a fever (so maybe keep one around for backup). One of the best features of this thermometer is that it can measure both forehead (temporal) and ear (temporal) temperature, and it does it in about 5-10 seconds. It uses an adapter on the top that you can swap between a probe for the ear, or a wide curved surface for the forehead. Both of them work wonderfully and seem to be highly accurate. You must read the instructions, however, to make sure you're positioning it in the right location on the forehead. Also make sure the sensors are clean because they are very sensitive to dirt or oil - you can clean with a bit of alcohol if needed. Note that you need to factor in a bit of a difference between a forehead and rectal reading. Most of the time, a forehead thermometer will read about half a degree (0.5 deg) to a full degree (1 deg) lower than the actual temperature. So if it measures about 101, your baby is likely about 101.5-102 deg F. Always confirm high numbers with a rectal thermometer and a trip to the pediatrician. We tried to test out the ear (tympanic) version a bit, but didn't find it quite as easy to position properly. So the convenience factor is great here, as is the flexibility to use it for forehead or ear, and the accuracy. Not quite as versatile or easy to use as our #1 forehead thermometer, though it does fit nicely in the hand.
#1 Best Oral Thermometer: Generation Guard Oral Thermometer. This is another FDA Approved thermometer, much simpler than the forehead one above, but a great contender for those looking for an oral thermometer. Note that all oral thermometers can double as a rectal thermometer as well (but be very careful with depth of insertion). They can also be used for armpit measurement, though we do not recommend that method. From what we've read in the scientific literature, the oral thermometer gives the second-best accuracy next to a rectal thermometer. This thermometer is basically like the one your mom used on you when you were younger, except now it is safer (no fragile tube of mercury!), digital, and easier to use and read. Simply turn it on, wait for the screen to show dashed lines, and put it under your child's tongue and have them close their mouth until it beeps. If you can get your kid to do that (we couldn't until they were about 5-6 years old!), you'll get a very accurate reading. If they let it pop out from under the tongue or open their mouth at all, you'll get an inaccurate reading. So if you trust your kid will keep it in their mouth correctly, oral thermometers are an excellent choice. If not, we recommend going with the forehead or rectal versions above. This somewhat basic digital thermometer is a bit more expensive than the rectal version since it can be used for oral or rectal, but about half of the price of a forehead thermometer. But with some good features like a flexible tip, rubberized cover, a 15-second reading time, and slim portable form factor. A clear plastic case is included.