How to Check Your Child’s Temperature Rectally
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A rectal temperature is the gold standard of young infants, especially those under three months old. It is safe, easy, and the most accurate method of checking a temperature. However, as a pediatric nurse I find that parents are often very fearful of using this method.
Many parents are afraid they will hurt their child, and online sources only serve to make this fear worse. You will often read that checking a temperature rectally can do tissue damage. This is completely untrue. Is it possible to harm your child with a rectal thermometer? Yeah, sure. Just like it is possible to hurt them with a baseball bat. Or, you could use that same baseball bat to just play ball with them.
At a minimum, parents fear they will make their child uncomfortable by checking their temperature rectally. Since you will be using this method primarily on infants, this fear is also unfounded. You will definitely not be making them emotionally uncomfortable. These are kids who still pee on people and try to eat their own poop. They know no modesty. The probe itself isn’t uncomfortable either if used correctly. Most babies won’t even notice you are checking their temperature because they are used to you wiping them.
So let’s all say it together, “I can check my child’s temperature rectally without fear.”
Exactly How to Check Your Child’s Temperature Rectally
- Undress your little one in a warm room. You can even cover them with a blanket and just slip lift up the edge of it.
- You can position your child over your lap, but I find the traditional diaper changing position works best because your baby will be used to it and not wonder what in the world you are doing.
- Apply a cover and lube to the tip of your thermometer. You can use KY jelly or something similar. Keep your lube at room temperature, so you do not affect the reading.
- This is the most important step. Turn on your thermometer and insert it into your child’s anus (where the poop comes out) no more than half an inch. One fourth to one half inch will be exactly right. If you don’t insert any further you cannot harm your child.
- Wait around 5-10 seconds for your reading and you are all done. Just discard your thermometer cover. If your thermometer takes longer than 10 seconds it is time for a new one. There are many excellent options for fast, accurate rectal thermometers.
- You are all done, but there is a good chance you will need to clean poop because the rectal stimulation often causes a bowel movement.
Do you need a flexible tipped thermometer
Nope. You will notice that rectal thermometers (which are the same as oral) often boast of having a flexible tip. This is a great feature to make taking an oral temperature more comfortable, but it is completely unnecessary for rectal temps.
Why? Because you will not be inserting the thermometer more than half an inch and also because you will not be moving it around once it is in there. Imagine the pressure it takes to make even a flexible tipped thermometer bend. That type pressure and movement never occurs while checking your child’s temperature rectally.
Are there any reasons you should not check your baby’s temperature rectally?
Only if they have a history of rectal bleeding or any conditions affecting the anus or rectum. If they have ever had surgery on their anus you will want to ask your pediatrician first.
Next best thing to rectal? Temporal artery thermometers are considered to be second runner up to rectal temperatures according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.