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When Your Baby's Skin Looks Blue

Parents should investigate any bluish color they spot on their baby's skin. Blue skin means the underlying blood has a blue cast rather than the nice pink color of blood with lots of oxygen in it. Fortunately, in most cases it's quite normal and harmless as long as it's temporary.

What's the Underlying Problem When Baby's Skin is Blue?

There are two reasons why the blood under you baby's skin might look blue:

  1. The lungs are not getting enough oxygen. Since oxygen is what makes blood turn red, blood cells without oxygen remain blue ("cyanosis").
  2. The underlying blood is moving sluggishly, so the normal veins underneath that carry blue, oxygen-poor blood back to the heart are more noticeable.

You can tell if there is insufficient oxygen in the blood by checking the color of the skin all over your baby's body. If there is a bluish cast everywhere (especially in areas with a lot of blood flow, like the lips, tongue, and vagina or scrotum), this could mean all of the blood is blue and there could be a problem with the heart or lungs.

More commonly, it's only certain areas -- like the hands, feet, or area around the mouth -- that look blue some of the time. This is usually perfectly normal. 

Tips for Concerned Parents

If you are concerned about a blue tinge to your baby's skin, check his entire body. An off-and-on blue cast to the hands and feet, with pink skin elsewhere, is not a sign of a problem, but rather just a little bit of immaturity of the circulatory system, which will go away over time.

When to Worry About Baby's Blue Skin

If there is a bluish cast over the entire body, the blood may be lacking sufficient oxygen. Blue primarily around the lips may also indicate low blood oxygen. This is very worrisome and you should seek medical attention immediately. It’s also concerning if you notice any blueness at all when it seem like your baby might be having trouble breathing.

But you don't need to worry if your baby's hands and feet turn blue for a short period of time when the rest of the body is pink and your baby is breathing normally.

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD on July 19, 2012

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