Baby Scratching Face - Reasons & Prevention Tips

Baby Scratching Face – Reasons & Prevention Tips

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Arti Sharma (Paediatrician)
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Seeing their baby scratching his face is not welcoming for new parents and can make them anxious enough to dial their baby’s paediatrician at ungodly hours. If you’re a new parent and see your baby scratching his face more often than not, you must worry and wonder what you can do about it. We understand where you’re coming from, but should you concern yourself? Let’s find out!

It is normal for babies to scratch their faces, and you need not concern yourself, as there are certain measures you can take to prevent your baby from scratching his face! But before we take you to the measures, you must understand why babies scratch their faces so that you can prevent the cause itself!

Video: Baby Scratching Face – Reasons & Tips to Prevent It

Why Do Babies Scratch Their Faces?

Babies cannot control most of their body movements until they are a few weeks of age. So once they cross this duration, they start fidgeting with their limbs and may end up scratching their faces. There’re several reasons why babies end up scratching their faces. Some of them are given below:

1. Dry and Itchy Skin

Dry, itchy and flaky skin is one of the biggest reasons babies scratch their faces. Dirt and bacteria buildup may cause acne or pimples, triggering your baby to scratch his face. Look into your baby’s diet to prevent skin allergies and establish a good skincare routine for your little one.

2. The Startle Reflex

Babies are sensitive to light and sounds. It’s normal to feel surprised or shocked by your surroundings. Sometimes a shimmering light or a drop of noise can startle them as they’re experiencing new sensations. That’s what we refer to as the startle reflex, and when they’re startled, they flail their arms. And guess what happens when they flail their arms? They end up scratching their face. Of course, this is an involuntary response to the stimulus though.

The Startle Reflex

3. Explore Their Face

Touching the face is also a reflex that humans learn from a very young age. When the child is inside the womb, there’s little room to move around or explore. When your newborn is finally out, he starts exploring his surroundings and body parts, including his face. This means he will reach out for his face, a natural and instinctive response. He is experiencing new sensations and trying to understand how his environment responds to how he reacts.

4. Emotional Reasons

When a baby feels distraught or unhappy, he is likelier to swing his arms and legs in the air. As a result, he might end up scratching his face. When children feel frustrated, they scratch their faces as a coping mechanism. You have to take note of their emotional cues and see what triggers them. Just spend more time with your baby and keep an eye on him.

5. Infantile Eczema

This skin ailment, characterised by red, dry, and itchy patches, commonly affects infants. The incessant itchiness associated with eczema may provoke babies to instinctively scratch their faces, seeking relief. Unfortunately, this well-intentioned scratching can exacerbate the condition, causing further skin irritation and potential infections. Psoriasis and atopic dermatitis (eczema) are the main factors attributable to nocturnal itching, which can lead a newborn to touch their face while sleeping.

6. Cradle Cap and Rashes

Cradle cap is a common skin condition in infants characterised by the formation of yellowish or brownish scales on the scalp. However, in some cases, these scales can extend to the forehead, eyebrows, and even the cheeks. The rough texture and itchiness caused by cradle caps can prompt babies to scratch their faces, seeking relief from the discomfort. Skin rashes also lead to babies itching their faces.

7. Mosquito Bites and Shingles

Reaction to mosquito bites can often tempt the baby to scratch the face severely, aggravating the rash and even causing infections like shingles. This is one of the most common reasons babies itch their faces and scratch themselves. 

Tips to Prevent Your Baby From Scratching His Face

If you see your infant scratching his face and head, don’t panic. You can prevent him from doing so in a few ways.

1. Moisturize His Face

You can prevent your toddler from scratching face by taking good care of his skin. Apply a gentle moisturising lotion on his face regularly and at least twice a day. Ensure the lotion is formulated using natural ingredients and is free of parabens, sulphates and harmful chemicals because they can trigger an allergy or be toxic to a baby’s skin.

2. Trim His Nails When He Is Asleep

Trim your baby’s nails when he’s asleep. Do this once every week since a baby’s nails tend to grow fast. Trimming his nails will prevent scarring his face when he attempts to scratch it. If you plan to trim his nails during the daytime, get your partner to hold your baby’s hands while at it. Be gentle because your little one might fidget.

3. Swaddle Your Baby

You can prevent your munchkin from flailing his arms whenever he gets startled. Simply get a swaddle fabric and wrap him in it. Swaddling your baby will keep his arms secured in place and prevent him from scratching his face. Even if he gets startled he won’t be able to scratch his face.

4. Get a Pair of Mittens for Your Baby

Making your baby wear a pair of mittens will keep him comfortable and prevent him from scratching his face. They have a nice, soft feeling, and the wrapping around the arm or the sleeve provides a decent layer of insulation, thus preventing him from feeling cold. You will find them in various colours, cute designs, and sizes.

5. Opt for Natural Remedies

Some natural remedies can help deter babies from scratching their faces. One such option is using chamomile tea. Brew a weak solution of chamomile tea and allow it to cool. Then, gently dab the chamomile tea onto your baby’s face using a clean cloth or cotton pad. Chamomile is known for its soothing properties and may help alleviate itchiness, reducing the urge to scratch.

6. Use Anti-Scratch Sleeves or Garments

Consider using specially designed anti-scratch sleeves or garments to prevent babies from scratching themselves. These sleeves or garments typically have fold-over cuffs or built-in mittens that cover your baby’s hands.

What Should You Do When Your Baby Scratches Their Face?

When your baby scratches their face, it’s essential to immediately prevent further irritation and potential harm to their delicate skin. Here are four key steps to follow when your baby scratches their face:

1. Stay Calm and Assess the Situation

Maintain a calm demeanour and gently examine the area where your baby has scratched their face. Assess the severity of the scratch, looking for any bleeding, swelling, or signs of infection. This initial evaluation will help determine the appropriate course of action.

2. Clean the Affected Area

Clean the scratched area with mild soap and water or a gentle saline solution if there is any bleeding or an open wound. Use a clean, soft cloth or cotton pad to dab the area and carefully remove any dirt or debris. This step helps minimise the risk of infection.

3. Apply a Protective Barrier

After cleaning the scratch, consider applying a thin layer of petroleum jelly or baby-friendly barrier cream to create a protective barrier over the wound. This helps moisturise the area and prevents further irritation from rubbing against clothing or bedding.

4. Trim Your Baby’s Nails

Keep your baby’s nails short and smooth to prevent future scratching incidents. Regularly trim or file their nails to minimise sharp edges. Be cautious when trimming their nails and use baby-specific nail clippers or a soft emery board to avoid accidentally injuring their delicate skin.

5. Distract and Soothe Your Baby

To divert their attention from scratching, engage your baby in soothing activities or gentle play. Provide them with safe toys or engage in calming activities that occupy their hands. Additionally, offer comfort and reassurance through gentle touch, rocking, or soothing sounds to help them relax and reduce the urge to scratch.

Get a Pair of Mittens for Your Baby

When Do Babies Stop Scratching Their Face?

Babies are not in control of what they do until they are six weeks old. They learn to move and be aware of what they’re doing when they are between 4 and 6 months of age. That’s when they usually stop scratching their face. But some babies might take a bit longer if scratching their face becomes a habit.

Can the Scratches Turn Into a Scar?

Babies’ nails aren’t strong enough to break the skin barrier. Even with the constant scratching, the most they’ll get is a few light marks on their face, which fade away with time. Their nails are also not sharp enough to pierce their skin, so you don’t have to worry about bleeding (unless they are prone to acne or dirt building up on the skin).

What to Do If the Scratched Area Starts Bleeding

Give your baby a nice warm bath. And when we say warm, remember that the water should be warm, not hot. Pat dry the scratched area after the bath. You can use gentle natural eczema cream or lotion on his face. This will soothe his skin and prevent itchiness.

If you notice your baby scratching face at night and it starts bleeding, here is what you can do:

  • Comfort your baby and let him know that it’s okay. Nurse your baby or sway him gently – keep him distracted!
  • Wash your hands well before you touch your baby’s face. You don’t want to increase the risk of infections or open up the wounds. Trim your nails and wash your hands thoroughly using soap and lukewarm water before treating your baby.
  • Use a sanitized cloth or bandage and apply the right amount of pressure on the wound until it stops bleeding.
  • Wash the affected area with lukewarm water and hypoallergenic soap. You want to clear away the germs and remove the risk of bacteria buildup.
  • Let the scratched area heal with time; once it heals completely, moisturise his skin daily.

Babies are normal to scratch their face, and you need not worry. What you can do is take preventive measures from early on. If you haven’t started using soft mittens for your baby, then now is the time to do that. When your baby sleeps in a crib, you won’t have to stand guard to keep his hands from reaching his face. Your little one is bound to scratch his face at times but you can stop him. And if you see scratches on his face, consult his paediatrician to know how you can treat it.

Furthermore, remember that this phase won’t last forever. Until then, take preventive measures and keep your little one safe!

References/Resources:

1. Wusthoff. C. J; Movement Milestones: Birth to 3 Months; healthychildren.org; https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/Pages/Movement-Birth-to-Three-Months.aspx

2. Didehbani. N; Why we touch our faces so much – and how to break the habit; UT Southwestern Medical Center; https://utswmed.org/medblog/why-we-touch-our-faces-so-much-and-how-break-habit/; March 2020

3. Nail Care: Fingers and Toes; healthychildren.org; https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/bathing-skin-care/Pages/Nail-Care-Fingers-and-Toes.aspx

4. Skin rashes in babies; Nidirect Government Services; https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/conditions/skin-rashes-babies

5. 10 REASONS YOUR SKIN ITCHES UNCONTROLLABLY AND HOW TO GET RELIEF; American Academy Dermatology Association; https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/itchy-skin/itch-relief/relieve-uncontrollably-itchy-skin

6. Boozalis. E, Grossberg. A. L, Puttgen. K. B; Itching at night: A Review on reducing nocturnal pruritus in Children; Pediatr Dermatol.; PubMed Central; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29943835/; September 2018

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