You’ve dressed your little one in warm (but light!) layers to help them stay snug as a bug. But you may have noticed that your little one’s hands and feet sometimes still feel cold.
Should you add layers? Don’t babies have higher body temperatures than grownups? Is your baby coming down with something?
Try to relax! We usually think of grownups as the ones with cold feet (and hands), but it’s pretty normal for babies to have them too. In fact, most babies will sometimes have cold hands (and feet) for several reasons.
Here’s what to know and what to look for if your baby’s hands feel a little cold.
Your baby’s hands might feel even colder than they are, because your hands are warmer. Babies actually have slightly higher body temperatures than adults, but their arms, hands, feet, and legs will still normally be cooler than yours. This can be confusing for anyone!
Basically, a baby’s core temperature (in the middle of their body) is warmer than an adult’s. But they can’t heat themselves or regulate their temperature quickly because of their tiny size. They also don’t have even heating to their legs, feet, arms, and hands.
All of this sometimes means warm body and cold hands and feet! This is why babies need to be dressed in one layer more than what feels comfortable to you, even in a warm home.
A normal body temperature for babies can range from 97° F (36.1°C) to 100.4°F (38°C), says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Adult body temperature typically measures 98.6°F (37°C), but it can range from 97°F (36.1°C) to 99°F (37.2°C) and still be “normal,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
Baby life means lots of sleeping, feeding, and digesting. Sleeping and lying around means your baby isn’t moving around or exerting themselves for much of the day. This is completely normal and healthy for a baby, of course. But that may lead to cold hands.
This normal lack of moving around means that babies have less blood flow to their limbs (arms, legs, hands, and feet). Feeding and digesting every few hours also means that more of a baby’s blood flow is sent to the busy stomach and intestines, rather than the hands.
Once your baby starts spending more waking hours playing and exploring, moving around will help their hands and feet warm up!
Blood not only carries oxygen all over the body, it also carries heat. Newborns and babies under the age of 3 months still have new blood circulation systems. This means that in a baby there is less blood (and heat) getting to the parts farthest from the heart, the hands and feet.
Baby’s new little body is also still busy developing their brain, lungs, and other parts. For this reason, lots of blood flow is focused on these important developing parts. Baby’s hands and feet don’t get the extra blood just yet.
In fact, some newborns have so little blood flowing through their hands and feet that they look blue! This very common condition is called acrocyanosis. It usually goes away within hours or days after a baby is born.
Older babies can sometimes have cold hands or feet that look blue if they’re temporarily cold — like after a bath, outside, or at night. Don’t worry. This is normal and will go away completely as baby develops a stronger blood circulation system.
If your little one has a fever — any temperature over 100.4°F (38°C) — they may have cold hands and feet. This can happen because their new blood circulation and immune systems are busy fighting germs elsewhere in their body. This might pull heat away from the outer parts like the hands and feet.
A fever can also lead to chills and low temperatures as your baby’s body tries to balance a spiking fever. Look for other signs that your baby might be unwell and call your doctor if you notice:
- flushed or red face
- yellowish skin or eyes
- hot dry skin on the face or chest or body
- no interest in feeding
- less urine
- diarrhea or constipation
- sleepiness or sleeping too much
- flopping or limpness when you pick them up
- crying a lot
- not crying at all
- being generally more fussy or irritable
If your baby has cold hands and also has blueish lips or blue mottling (blotches) on the body, they may have poor blood circulation. This means that their entire body might not be getting enough oxygen.
Some conditions that cause blue lips or skin can be harmful. These include:
- heart problems
- lung or breathing problems
- blood circulation problems
Be sure to call your doctor right away if you notice blue splotches or blue lips.
If your baby’s hands feel cold, check their stomach or torso area. If that feels warm and looks pinkish, your baby is just fine.
If your baby’s middle, back, or neck also feel a bit chilly, your baby may need more layers. You can also add mittens, socks, and a little hat to keep heat in. Check your baby’s hands and stomach and neck again after about 20 minutes.
Snuggle your baby against your chest to quickly warm them up using your own body heat. Remove all your baby’s clothing except one layer and a diaper, slide them against your skin, and cover up with a blanket. Be careful to keep the blanket off your baby’s face.
Kangaroo snuggles with your baby can help get them warmed up. A small study from 2000 looking at preterm infants concluded that kangaroo care can maintain infant body heat as well as an incubator.
As cozy as this feels, avoid doing this if you’re too tired. It’s not safe for your baby if you fall asleep. Also avoid putting your baby to sleep in your bed beside you.
Check the room temperature
You can also adjust the thermostat in your home or use a heater in your baby’s room. A safe, comfortable temperature for your baby’s room is 68 to 72°F (20 to 22.2°F).
Keeping your baby warm is important. On the other hand, babies can also overheat quickly because of their new small bodies can’t adjust quickly. Plus they can’t throw off layers (just yet). Avoid overcompensating for cold hands by making the room temperature too warm.
Check for a fever
Your baby may have cold hands because they have a fever. The best way to check if your baby has a fever is getting a temperature reading — yep — from their bottom (rectum).
The rectal temperature is closest to the temperature at the middle of the body, where babies hold most of their body heat. Use a digital thermometer versus a glass one. They are safer and give more precise readings.
You can also get an underarm or ear reading, but these temperatures will probably be slightly cooler.
To get the most accurate temperature for your baby, peel off their outer layers. Lay your baby down in their crib or somewhere comfortable and keep them in a light onesie or a T-shirt and diaper while you get a temperature reading.
If your baby is 3 months or younger and registers a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) call your doctor right away. It may be a sign of a serious infection or other illness.
If your baby is over 3 months with a fever, call your doctor if they are also exhibiting any of the following symptoms:
- unexplained rash
- unusual sleepiness
- extreme fussiness
Your baby may need medical treatment like antibiotics.
It’s normal for a baby to have cold hands. This usually happens because your baby’s body is still growing and developing. Your newborn’s temperature should even out after they are about 3 months old.
Older babies can also sometimes get cold hands. Check for signs and symptoms of a fever or other illness. Call your baby’s doctor if you have questions.