Rectal method for small babies

Rectal method (for small babies)

Grease the silver end of the thermometer lightly with petroleum jelly and lay the child face down on your lap.

Gently insert the bulb (silver) end of the thermometer about 2 cm into the rectum (anus). Hold the thermometer between your index and middle fingers palm down, so that you can grasp the childs buttocks with your thumb, ring and small finger and hold them together. Never force the thermometer into place (it should slide in gently) and dont hold it in place so tightly that it could break off if the child jerks. Your other arm should be supporting the child and holding her steady. Keep the thermometer in place for 60 seconds for an accurate reading. Remove the thermometer, wipe off the jelly and read the temperature by looking for the furthest end of the grey line of mercury. The temperature will be 0,5 deg. higher than if taken in the mouth. Make a note of the reading and the time so that you can give your doctor accurate details. After use the thermometer should be shaken down and washed in cold water to which an antiseptic has been added. (Hot water will crack the glass.)

Axillary (armpit) method. Shake down the thermometer as described above and without using petroleum jelly, hold the bulb end in the armpit. If possible, get the child to keep her elbow close to her body by placing her hand on her opposite shoulder so that the thermometer is kept in place. If not, sit the infant or toddler on your lap and hold her arm down by putting your arm around her. Keep her quiet by feeding her or reading to her. Hold the thermometer in place for three minutes. The temperature reading will be 0,5 deg. lower than if it was taken in the mouth. Follow the directions above for washing the thermometer after use.

Under the tongue method. An older child who can be trusted not to bite the thermometer can have her temperature taken by placing an oral thermometer (the stubby kind works as well) under her tongue and keeping her mouth closed for two minutes. The child should not have had anything hot or cold to drink for 15 minutes before the temperature is taken or the reading will not be true. She should not open her mouth, so if her nose is blocked dont take her temperature in her mouth as she is sure to open it to breathe. The child should not bite onto the thermometer to keep it in place; she can hold it steady with her fingers. Take the reading and shake down and wash as described under the rectal method.

Reading the temperature. Normal temperature taken in the mouth is 36,6 °C but a slight variation (between 36,5° and 37 °C) is of no significance.


A child who has relatively low temperature (raised one or two degrees) and is lethargic, off her food and seems to be sick may be more ill than the child with a high temperature who is still active and behaving more or less normally. In other words, be guided by your childs behaviour. Some of the most common causes of a raised temperature are infectious diseases; ear infection (otitis media); tonsillitis; strep throat; urinary tract infection and flu (use index for more details of these diseases).

When to call the doctor. If your child has a fever over 38,5 °C and it is not the middle of the night, speak to your doctor.

If it is the middle of the night and she does not have any of the symptoms listed on 218 as requiring immediate attention, try to bring her temperature down and wait till morning.

Rectal method for small babies

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