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Discharge Instructions: Taking an Axillary Temperature (Pediatric)

You take an axillary temperature by holding the thermometer under your baby’s arm for 4 to 5 minutes. Do this with care to provide a correct reading. Remember, though, that taking a child’s temperature under the arm is less accurate than taking the temperature in the rectum, especially for babies less than 3 months old.

Closeup of adult raising baby's arm to place digital thermometer in armpit.

Woman holding digital thermometer in baby's armpit.

Digital thermometer.

Get the thermometer ready

  • Be sure to use a thermometer that is specifically designed for underarm use.

  • Remove the cover from the thermometer.

  • Clean the thermometer before each use.

  • Be sure the thermometer is at room temperature when you use it.

Position your baby

  • Hold your baby on your lap or lay the baby on his or her back on a firm surface.

  • Gently lift your baby’s arm.

  • Place the tip of the thermometer in the fold of the baby’s armpit. To get a true reading, the thermometer must rest directly against baby’s skin on all sides.

  • Lower the arm back down to your baby’s side.

Take the temperature

  • Follow the specific instructions for using your digital thermometer.

  • Keep your baby’s arm against his or her side for 4 to 5 minutes. This keeps the thermometer in place and gives an accurate reading.

  • When the thermometer beeps, remove it and read the temperature on the display.

  • Normal axillary temperature is about 97.6°F (36.4°C) to 99.4°F (37.4°C) An axillary temperature is usually 1 degree lower than oral or rectal temperatures. It is therefore a useful screening measurement but not the most reliable at any age.

  • Before putting the thermometer away, clean it with soap and warm water and put the cover back on.

Follow-up

Make a follow-up appointment as directed by our staff.

When to call the healthcare provider

Call your baby's healthcare provider right away if he or she has any of the following:

  • Bleeding from the area where you took the temperature

  • Fever of 100°F (37.7°C) or higher for a temperature taken under the arm (for baby younger than 3 months). Or a fever that rises to 104°F (40°C) for a child of any age. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Donna Freeborn PhD CNM FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: Liora C Adler MD
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2016
© 2000-2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.