Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Nursing Honours


Faculty of Health and Human Sciences

First Advisor

Dr Patricia Percival


The transition of the newborn to extrauterine life, especially the preterm infant, necessitates adaptation to environmental changes in temperature (Levene, Tudehope & Thearle, 1987). The need for a method of measuring an infant's temperature rapidly and with minimal disturbance is critical and accurate temperature measurement in a preterm infant is a vitally important nursing procedure. However, the literature is inconclusive regarding the optimum placement time required to achieve an accurate temperature measurement and few studies bad been conducted to ascertain the reliability and usefulness of tympanic thermometers in preterm infants. The study of 81 hospitalised preterm infants, compared axillary mercury, axillary digital and tympanic thermometers to determine optimum placement times, accuracy and any difference in temperature readings in the preterm infant. A statistically significant difference between the temperatures was obtained using the three thermometers (F (2, 79) = 5.25, p < .01). However, the mean temperature differences between the thermometers was not greater than 0.13°C and therefore, the small mean differences obtained, were not considered clinically significant for use in normal neonatal care. Furthermore, correlations between the three thermometers were high: r = .84, r = .75 and r = .78. The results demonstrated that 5.5 minutes are required to accurately measure a preterm infant's temperature using a mercury thermometer, 1.75 minutes are needed for the digital thermometer at the 'beep' time and less than 2 seconds for the tympanic thermometer. Results also showed that variables such as birth weight, age, gestation, nursery temperature, sex and the number of wraps covering the infant, did not affect the time taken for the temperatures to stabilise. This study has established the minimum time required to obtain an accurate axillary temperature in a preterm infant and has further clarified both the accuracy and usefulness of tympanic thermometry in this high risk population.