© Article author(s) (or their employer(s) unless otherwise stated in the text of the article) 2018. All rights reserved. No commercial use is permitted unless otherwise expressly granted. Objective To test the hypothesis that kangaroo mother care (KMC) initiated either at birth or at 1 hour after birth reduces moderate or severe hypothermia in term neonates at (A) 1 hour after birth and (B) at discharge when compared with standard thermoregulation care. Methods Term neonates born at a tertiary delivery centre in Zambia were randomised in two phases (phase 1: birth to 1 hour, phase 2: 1 hour to discharge) to either as much KMC as possible in combination with standard thermoregulation care (KMC group) or to standard thermoregulation care (control group). The primary outcomes were moderate or severe hypothermia (axillary temperature <36.0°C) at (A) 1 hour after birth and (B) at discharge. Results The proportion of neonates with moderate or severe hypothermia did not differ between the KMC and control groups at 1 hour after birth (25% vs 27%, relative risk (RR)=0.93, 95% CI 0.59 to 1.4, P=0.78) or at discharge (7% vs 2%, RR=2.8, 95% CI 0.6 to 13.9, P=0.16). Hypothermia was not found among the infants who had KMC for at least 9 hours or 80% of the hospital stay. Conclusions KMC practised as much as possible in combination with standard thermoregulation care initiated either at birth or at 1 hour after birth did not reduce moderate or severe hypothermia in term infants compared with standard thermoregulation care. The current study also shows that duration of KMC either for at least 80% of the time or at least 9 hours during the day of birth was effective in preventing hypothermia in term infants. Clinical trial registration NCT02189759.