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Having the ability to quickly and accurately check your baby's temperature is critical in normal times, but it's become even more important in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. A fever can be a symptom of many different illnesses, from the common cold to an ear infection to more serious diseases like meningitis or COVID-19. The sooner you identify your child has a fever, the sooner you can contact your pediatrician and figure out the cause. It's for this reason that every parent should have a reliable thermometer at the ready.

But there's a lot to consider when choosing a baby thermometer for accurate temperature measurement. For example, you can take temperature readings from several points on the body, including the mouth, armpit, rectum, baby's ear and forehead. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends taking a child's temperature rectally, as this will give you the most accurate measurement of internal body temperature. However, sticking a thermometer in your baby's butt isn't always the most convenient method, let alone the most pleasant (for child or parent). With that in mind, it's nice to have options -- and options there are aplenty. 

To give you a comprehensive look at the baby thermometer market, I sampled a wide variety of temperature-takers and tested them on myself, my 10-month-old daughter and my 3-year-old son. Any of the picks on this list will work, but some are better than others. Keep reading for the best baby thermometers of 2021. 

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Amplim has some of the highest rated forehead thermometers on Amazon, and after getting some hands-on experience it's easy to see why. The Amplim 1701 CA1 is the company's most popular model. This slender, ergonomically friendly infrared forehead thermometer offers a lot of value at its price point of around $30.

The thermometer is easy to read thanks to its large digital LCD screen with bright two-color backlighting. When everything is normal, the display is green. But when an elevated temperature is detected, the screen lights up red. To further alert you, the unit will beep continuously when a fever is detected. The Center for Disease Control defines a fever as a temperature of 100.4° F or higher.

The four-button layout makes it easy to switch modes and look back at previous readings stored in memory. The Amplim 1701 CA1 takes only a couple seconds to scan your forehead from up to 1.2 inches away, and the temperature readings are consistent as long as there's no hair in the way and you don't pull it back too quickly (pro tip: wait for the second beep to sound before removing the thermometer to check it). Going back to the thermometer's modes, the 1701 CA1 has settings for surfaces, to check things like baby's milk bottle; and rooms, to measure ambient temperature. This thermometer also doubles as a phaser for dads who love Star Trek when mommy isn't looking. 

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If you take your baby everywhere with you, then Fridababy's 3-in-1 Ear, Forehead + Touchless thermometer would make a great travel companion. The Fridababy 3-in-1 is an infrared thermometer like the Amplim, but its compact size means it takes up less space in your diaper bag. The thermometer measures 9.5 inches long and weighs just 4 ounces, and it comes with a cloth drawstring pouch for storage. 

This thermometer is small but mighty, returning temperature readings in about a second. Though it has "touchless" in its name, taking temperature from the forehead requires making contact with the skin for an accurate reading. The touchless bit refers to the object mode, which you can use on food, bottles and other potentially too-hot things you might want to check before putting in baby's mouth. The second option for measuring body temperature with the Fridababy is through the ear. Removing the magnetic cap surrounding the sensor exposes a probe that fits comfortably in your ear. 

The backlit LCD screen is bright and easy to read. Its three colors correspond to temperature readings -- green for normal, yellow for low fever and red for high fever. One feature I particularly appreciate is the silent mode for checking my daughter's temperature while she sleeps. 

The Fridababy 3-in-1 is a handy little thermometer, though it is pricey at around $50.

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Is an ear thermometer the best choice for a baby? I would argue "no," because if your child is anything like my daughter they will fight you gum and nail to prevent you from getting that probe into their ear. But if you like the idea of an ear thermometer and you think your baby will tolerate one better than mine, the Braun Thermoscan 7 is the best there is. 

The thermometer is compact but surprisingly weighty for its size, which gives it a solid feel that conveys a sense of quality. The body is contoured to fit comfortably in your hand, and when you power it on you're treated to a multi-colored light show on the digital display. It's fancy, but then again it should be for its retail price of $50-65. 

Being ear-only, the Braun comes with a pack of 20 lens filters to cover the probe tip, which the company recommends you replace after each use. To remove a used lens, simply pull the trigger to eject it into the trash. I advise you not to show this feature to your 3-year-old, as it turns a precision-engineered measuring device into an expensive toy that shoots plastic caps across the room. 

Speaking of precision, the Braun delivers on the promises of accuracy printed on the box. Readings were consistent and never varied more than 0.2 degree from one to the next. You get results rather quickly, too, taking about two seconds from start to finish -- a blink of an eye for an adult running a self test but an eternity when you're wrestling to keep the probe inside the ear canal of a squirming baby. However, Braun markets the Thermoscan 7 as a thermometer that adapts as your child grows, having different calibrations for 0-3 months, 3-36 months, and 36 months and up, so this one could be a good long-term investment. That is, assuming your kids are more cooperative when they're three. 

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This is another Amazon best-seller from Amplim. It runs about the same price as the 1701 CA1 but has fewer buttons to worry about. This simpler design contributes to a cleaner, more streamlined look while still being easy to use right out of the box. It also has some features that set it apart from its sibling.

For starters, the method for reading temperature at the forehead is different. This model requires you to swipe from one side of the forehead to the other. This can be done without touching the skin, though you still have to be pretty close (less than half an inch away). Because of this, the other Amplim might have the advantage since, as we've covered, sitting still is not a thing babies like to do. But the Amplim 2001 F1 makes up for this shortcoming with its versatility. Removing the cap exposes a tapered sensor probe and automatically switches the thermometer to ear mode. In addition, there's a dedicated baby mode button, which activates a special calibration for children younger than three years old.

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Looking at the thermometer alone, you'd think this was just a basic stick thermometer (and an overpriced one at that, retailing for more than $20). But the Kinsa's real value is its built-in app connectivity, which brings to the table a modern way to measure, track and interpret your children's temperature readings on your smartphone. 

Once you've downloaded the Kinsa app on your phone and created an account, you can pair it to your QuickCare via Bluetooth. The thermometer will now send readings to the app. When a temperature is received, the app will ask you who it belongs to. You can create a profile for each member of your family, and based on age and reported symptoms of the user, the app can advise you on what to do. 

If your baby has a fever, it's going to tell you to contact your doctor pretty much every time. But based on the symptoms you input it might tell you to skip that step entirely and head straight to the emergency room. Hopefully you never have to see that alarming message, but it's good to know you'll get a warning just in case. Also, if you take your child's temperature regularly, the app's tracking can give you a good idea of what a normal temperature looks like for them. 

As for the thermometer itself, it has a relatively large circular LCD screen with colored backlighting, making it easy to read in the dark. The probe tip is very flexible, which makes it comfortable for taking temperature orally and (I assume) rectally. One complaint I have is that the rubber-covered waterproof button is hard to depress.

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Sometimes simple is best, and that's exactly what you get with the Vicks ComfortFlex. At its core, the ComfortFlex isn't much different from the digital thermometer you grew up with. But a few added features increase its usability and style. 

A circular LCD screen makes possible larger digits, which makes the ComfortFlex easier to read than you'd expect from such a small thermometer. Another welcome feature is the backlighting, which illuminates the screen so you can still read it in the dark. Like other higher-priced thermometers on this list, the ComfortFlex features color-coded lights that correspond to temperature -- once again green for normal, yellow for low fever and red for high fever. 

Like all stick thermometers, the Vicks ComfortFlex gives you the flexibility to measure temperature orally, rectally or under the arm. The thermometer comes with a pack of disposable probe covers, which you should definitely use if you plan to take readings rectally. If you do that, your baby will likely appreciate this thermometer's flexible probe. It takes about 10 seconds to get a reading, so having a comfortable probe tip might mean the difference between an accurate measurement and an outright rectal refusal. At around $10, the Vicks ComfortFlex is cheap enough to purchase as a backup but also good enough to serve as your one and only thermometer if need be.

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Measuring temperature by way of the rectum is by far the ickiest method, but it's also the one most recommended for small children, especially infants. So if you have to take your baby's temperature this way, you might as well do it with the best dedicated rectal thermometer on the market: The Fridababy Quick-Read Rectal Thermometer. 

Part of what makes the Fridababy so good at its job is its flexible probe tip that protrudes only three quarters of an inch, just enough to land it in the sweet spot for an accurate measurement. Then there's the wide, ovular shape of the thermometer, which naturally prevents over-insertion. And true to its name, the Quick-Read delivers results in about 10 seconds. To my surprise, I was able to get in and out with the Frida before my daughter showed any signs of discomfort. 

Another thing the Frida has going for it is its large digital screen with bright backlighting. It's easy to read and continues to display the last temperature reading until you power it down. The thermometer is water-resistant and is recommended to be wiped down with soapy water or alcohol after each use, because ew. 

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Some of the most sleepless nights you can have are nights when your baby isn't feeling well. When your infant has even the slightest hint of a fever around bedtime, anxiety can rob you of much-needed shut-eye. It's those nights you might wish you had a Vava smart thermometer.

Unlike the other thermometers on this list, the Vava isn't made for measuring temperature on the spot. Instead, it's designed to monitor body temperature over a long period of time. The Vava consists of a rechargeable base with LED display, remote thermometer probe and a number of adhesive patches for attaching the thermometer in place. The thermometer sticks to your baby's side with the probe end tucked in the armpit. 

The thermometer connects wirelessly to the base automatically and will continuously send updates throughout the night. If a fever is detected, an alarm will sound and the temperature reading will flash. A high fever warning, which triggers at 102.2°F and above, further alerts you by changing the LED display color from white to red. Additionally, the base will alert you when the probe battery is low, the patch has fallen off or the probe is out of range. The thermometer has a 49-foot range, which was enough to remain connected in any room of my house. 

The base also serves as a storage box for the other pieces and a charger for the thermometer probe. The base itself recharges via a USB-C cable and has a claimed battery life of 24 hours when fully charged. Just 10 non-woven adhesive strips are provided, and a refill pack of 10 more will run you $9.99. That's nothing compared to the price of the unit itself, however. At $79.99, the Vava is by far the most expensive thermometer on this list. But for some, the peace of mind it offers could be worth it.

How I tested

I looked at the most highly rated thermometers online and chose a sampling of products from each category to test. Not every thermometer I tested made the list. I evaluated each product for ease of use, overall build quality, value for the money and temperature measuring consistency. That last criteria is important, because it's not quite the same as testing for accuracy. In a laboratory setting, you have more control over variables and can test accuracy by measuring against something with a temperature that is precisely known (a black-body device is one example). I don't have any of those things, so instead I tested each thermometer inside my air-conditioned house on either myself or my kids and looked for major fluctuations from one reading to the next. 

Which type of thermometer is the most accurate?

Each method for measuring temperature will yield slightly different results. As we touched on above, a rectal thermometer will give you the best idea of internal body temperature because you're measuring from directly inside the body. Given that, rectal temperature will be 0.5° to 1.0° F higher than oral temperature, according to the Mount Sinai network of hospitals. Ear (or tympanic) temperature will also be 0.5° to 1.0° higher than oral temperature. Meanwhile, external measuring methods like from the armpit or forehead tend to indicate 0.5° to 1.0° lower than an oral reading. 

So how do you account for those differences? First, it's important you follow the instructions provided with your thermometer. You won't get a good reading if you're using it incorrectly. Second, you should know what a normal temperature looks like for your child. The average normal body temperature is 98.6°F, but a child's temperature can vary by one or two degrees based on age, time of day, level of activity and other factors. As such, taking regular temperature checks when your child is healthy will help you establish a good baseline for what normal is for them. If you suspect a fever but aren't seeing 100.4° on your thermometer, you can look at a chart like this one from C.S. Mott Children's Hospital to see what you might get if you measured by a different method. 

At the end of the day, the best thermometer for you is going to be the one you know how to use and will be comfortable using on a regular basis. By using it regularly, you'll know that particular instrument better than anyone else, so if it measures a little bit high or low you'll be able to take that into consideration. Whichever type you go with, make sure to tell your doctor what kind of thermometer you used when you tell them your child registered a fever. 

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.