The Best Baby Thermometers Measure Your Kid’s Temperature — And That’s It

With kids' thermometers, less really is more.

by Donna Freydkin
Originally Published: 
Oral and digital baby thermometers set against a multi-colored background.

For some, it might make sense to blow a car payment on a baby monitor or a fancy stroller (like one with its own engine, for example). But when you’re shopping for the best baby thermometers, or the best thermometers for kids and toddlers in general, you’re actually better off skipping the expensive ones loaded with features, says Dr. Benjamin D. Hoffman, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention, and opting for what experts affectionately call the “drugstore special.” That is to say, a digital device that’s idiot-proof and has one job: to accurately measure your kid’s temperature when they have a fever, without requiring parents to have medical training to do so.

“All you need is a straightforward digital thermometer,” says Hoffman. “That’s what we use at home. You want one you can use orally and rectally. Just if you use it rectally, use a different one orally. They work exactly the same way.”

Rectal thermometers should be used for babies from birth until age 3; for kids 4 and older, an oral one can be used.

What about all those dope-looking infrared thermometers, or the ones designed to be used in the ear or on the forehead, or the wearable devices that track temps via Bluetooth? Spend your money elsewhere. You need to be something of a pro to use those thermometers correctly, and if you’re not — and in the stress of an infant fever, you’re even less likely to be — then you won’t get accurate readings.

“Ear thermometers are not worth the expense,” says Hoffman. “They require clear access to the eardrum, and if there is ear wax present, you don’t get that. And forehead thermometers measure skin temperature, which is not what we’re looking for. You want to measure core body temperature.”

In other words, keep it simple.

You might have noticed that during the Covid-19 pandemic, digital thermometers are difficult to find, and nearly impossible to order online. Pro tip: Most drugstore chains stock them behind the counter, either in the pharmacy or the main checkout, so you need to ask for them in person. And because they sell out fast, ask about the day the store restocks so you can get one in the morning. Meanwhile, below are thermometers still available online.

As for that old trick of touching a child’s forehead to determine if they’re spiking a fever? Surprise: It doesn’t actually work, even if it’s what our parents did. “We all think we’re good at telling it that way. We’re really not,” says Hoffman.

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