Whether you’re a first time or experienced parent, there will always be scenarios that cause you some worry. For example, when you wrap your baby in several layers to keep them warm but their hands still feel like blocks of ice. It’s only natural that you worry about your baby but this article should help put your mind at ease by explaining why your baby always has cold hands and when you need to seek medical help.
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Is it Normal for Babies to Have Cold Hands?
It’s completely normal for babies to have cold hands. Their circulatory systems are still developing and this means that blood goes to their vital organs, such as their brain and heart, because they need them most.
Babies also aren’t as mobile as children or adults and it’s well known that exercising helps move blood around our bodies. As babies don’t move around a lot, especially if they’re under three months old, this is also why their hands are often cold.
6 Primary Causes of Cold Hands in Babies
The good news is that most causes of cold hands in babies aren’t things that you need to be worried about. Below, you’ll find a summary of the most common reasons, both simple and more serious, and how you can manage them.
1. Immature Circulatory System
As mentioned above, newborn babies are still developing their circulatory systems. In adults, blood is able to flow around the entire body and this is why our hands and feet are usually quite warm. On winter days, our hands and feet are usually the first to feel the cold and this is because our blood rushes to our vital organs to prevent them from shutting down due to the temperature.
Babies have a similar response all the time. Even though their core temperature is warmer than an adults, the blood inside their tiny bodies will go to the developing organs, such as their heart and lungs, which need it the most. Blood doesn’t just carry oxygen around the body but also heat. So, if their bodies are trying to help their vital organs develop by keeping a rich blood supply there, their extremities will be colder.
2. Temperature Regulation
Similar to their circulation, babies can’t regulate their own temperature. When you give birth, the advice given is to always keep a hat on your baby as they lose a lot of body heat through the top of their heads.
A good way to help your baby regulate their body temperature is to dress them in an extra layer. Always have a vest on under their clothing and if you feel that their hands are too cold, fold over their sleepsuit mittens or buy them separately. This is also a good way to stop your baby scratching their face while they sleep.
Newborn babies are quite sedentary beings. They eat, sleep, poop and repeat all day, every day. This is normal and it’s nothing to worry about. But because your baby isn’t moving around and exercising their bodies, the blood isn’t needed in their hands or feet.
They also spend a lot of their day digesting the milk they’ve consumed. This requires work and the blood will rush to their intestines and stomachs to aid the process. Obviously, this means less blood is available to keep their hands warm.
When anyone gets a fever, it’s part of the immune system’s response to an infection that’s taking hold somewhere in the body. Hands and feet are usually cold when someone has a fever because the blood is busy helping the immune system fight off the infection.
If you suspect your baby has a fever, check their temperature and if it’s above 38°C (100.4°F), it’s a fever. Keep an eye on them and check for any other symptoms such as no interest in feeding or yellowing skin. In this instance, call your GP as soon as possible.
Every parent is often on the lookout for meningitis. Cold hands aren’t the first sign that your baby has this infection of the brain lining and spinal cord but it can be a symptom. General symptoms of this illness often present as a cold or flu but your baby can deteriorate quickly. Get your baby to a medical professional as soon as you suspect meningitis (see section below).
Sepsis is an infection in the blood. Cold hands and feet are one of the main symptoms along with low fever, fast heart rate and breathing, dry diapers and nausea. It’s vital that a doctor sees your baby as soon as possible as sepsis can be fatal and the quicker it’s treated, the better.
What to do if Your Baby Always Has Cold Hands
The first thing you should do if you think your baby has cold hands is to try and find out the cause. If your baby is well in themselves, they’re feeding regularly, have frequent dirty nappies and they’re alert when they are awake, then it’s unlikely that there’s anything to worry about.
- Add an Extra Layer. The clothes your baby wears are dependent on the weather. Generally speaking, a baby should wear a vest, a sleepsuit and a hat if they’re newborn. Add some mittens or a cardigan if you think they’re too cold. It’s easy to add layers but it can be dangerous if you add to many.
- Put Baby in a Carrier. There are so many baby carriers and slings available nowadays that it can take some trial and error to find one that works for you and your baby. But when you’ve figured it out, babywearing can be a lifesaver. Not only does it leave your hands free to look after other children or conduct simple daily tasks but your shared body heat will help your baby stay warm.
- Check for a Fever. A fever is usually the first sign that your baby is trying to get rid of some kind of illness or infection. Babies do have a higher core temperature than adults but if you get a thermometer reading of 38°C or higher, keep an eye on your baby and see if they have any other worrying symptoms.
When to be Worried About Cold Hands in Baby
Trust your parental instinct. You know your baby better than anyone and you’ll know if there’s something wrong with your baby.
Cold hands and feet in a baby generally aren’t anything to worry about as long as your baby is their usual self. The important things to look out for are wet nappies, regular milk intake and alertness. But if you feel that your baby has become dehydrated or lethargic, and has a high fever, take them to see a doctor.
Other signs to look out for include:
- Flushed face
- Limpness when they’re picked up
- Fussy or irritable
- Crying more than usual
- Crying less than usual
If you spot any of these symptoms, it’s vital that you seek medical help straight away.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Cold Hands Mean Baby is Cold?
Not necessarily. If they feel warm elsewhere and their lips are pink, they’re warm enough. Add a light cardigan over their sleepsuit if you think they need warming up.
Is it OK for my Baby’s Hands to be Cold at Night?
Babies move less when they’re asleep. As explained above, this means that the blood flow isn’t reaching their hands and this is why their hands are colder at night. Generally speaking, cold hands at night are OK but your baby might be more sensitive and wake more frequently because of it.
How Do I Keep my Baby’s Hands Warm at Night?
Make sure the room is the perfect temperature with a room thermometer. Use common sense when dressing your baby for bed and if you feel that they would benefit from a cover, use a sleeping bag but make sure you choose the correct tog. There’s also the option of covering your baby’s hands with some mittens, either built in ones on their sleepsuit or separates.
Your baby will start to regulate their body temperature when they’re around 3 months old. Cold hands are normal in newborns and even young babies but there are some instances where you should be concerned.
If you think there’s more to it than just cold hands, check for signs of a fever or illness and get in touch with a medical professional.