In this article, we discuss the reasons why babies scratch their faces.
Is it normal for babies to scratch their faces?
Strangely enough, it is normal when your baby scratches their face! Although it may make you feel guilty and responsible, it’s important to remember a baby’s nails are sharp this is a common occurrence with new-borns and a topic that isn’t spoken about nearly enough.
WHY do babies scratch?
The nails of your new-born are razor-sharp despite being fragile and thin. They also grow rapidly, so if you’re not careful to keep them trimmed, your little one is likely to scratch themselves.
For most babies, the scratches will be entirely accidental and will normally appear on their faces as the face is the easiest, exposed place to reach.
When babies are first born, they have very little control over their own bodies, which causes them to unintentionally catch themselves with their sharp nails.
The Moro reflex is an infantile reflex that is present due to the sudden loss of support that your child receives during being in the womb. It causes their arms to flail toward and away from the body. With these movements, if not trimmed properly, your baby’s nails are close to their face, which could cause the scrapes that you have previously noticed.
This reflex tends to disappear around the 3–6-month stage.
Your baby is exploring!
As your child develops, they begin to explore and become more familiar with controlling their bodies. This could mean the scratches are due to them feeling their faces and the sensation the scratching gives to their skin.
Don’t worry, though, the scratches on your baby’s face are usually painless but shouldn’t be encouraged, just in case!
Getting too upset
All babies, especially new-borns, have their moments when they just won’t stop crying. They could be fed, not due for a nap, freshly changed, and they still might not stop! This is especially common in those babies with colic. You can find home remedies for colic in a recent article we wrote.
During these meltdowns, your baby has no control over their movements and will wave their hands everywhere, scratching as they do so. In this case, it is an act of frustration.
If your baby’s needs are all met, try using a distraction, such as a toy or even talking to them, to calm them down to reduce scratching.
Unfortunately, some babies are prone to eczema.
Eczema is a skin condition where the skin of your baby may red, dry, and cracked. The causes for it are unknown, but there are some methods to help your baby.
First, you should be sure eczema is actually the cause by checking with your child’s doctor. However, in the meantime, some possible symptoms are:
- A red rash on their cheeks, forehead, or scalp (on lighter skin)
- Darker, hyperpigmented patches of dry skin (on darker skin)
- Generally dry, itchy skin
- Sensitive skin
Below is the NHS link for Eczema.
After being diagnosed with eczema, your doctor may prescribe a cream to soothe the itchiness and once treated, the scratching from your baby may reduce due to their skin not being as dry and itchy. At home, it’s important to keep the baby’s skin moisturized at all times.
How to stop babies from scratching
If your baby doesn’t have an underlying condition, there are lots of methods you can try at home to reduce their urge to scratch. Every baby is different, so we encourage you to try various ways to find what works best for you and your baby.
Anti-scratch mittens are one of the most efficient, safest methods we advise you to try.
They are designed to still allow your baby to wiggle their fingers but act as a barrier between their razor-sharp nails and delicate skin. These are especially useful for winter when your baby’s hands must be kept warm too.
Although it might be a hassle to keep putting them back onto your child’s hands when they fall off, some mittens are of a higher quality and therefore stay on for longer. It’s also vital that when choosing your mittens, you choose some made from a good, baby-safe material that will be gentle on their skin. Some cheaper mittens are made poorly, and you could be at risk of irritating your baby’s skin further.
Below we have linked some of the best mittens to try for your baby on Amazon.
We understand your baby’s fingers are tiny, and their nails are even tinier! But it is vital to keep them trimmed short. Otherwise, the nails could cause damage to your child’s skin barrier in the long run. It can be daunting to put scissors near your little one’s skin, but it is absolutely necessary. If maintained, it does become easier!
How to trim babies’ nails:
- Take baby-appropriate clippers or scissors.
- Place baby on your knee facing away from you.
- Take their hand and hold it away from their body so you can see the nails.
- Push their finger pad gently away from the nail to reduce accidental nicks.
- Carefully trim the ends of the nail, but not too short.
- To avoid the baby moving during this, try to distract your baby with sounds, toys, or another
Below we have linked some of the best nail trimmers to try for your baby on Amazon.
Nails should be trimmed about once every 2 weeks to keep them short and safe. By doing this, the nails won’t be long enough to cause harm to your baby through scratching.
If you notice your baby is flailing their arms everywhere and their nails are catching their skin, try to simply distract them. They may just be bored!
You could give them something else to hold or play with, like a toy with different textures or a sensory box for them to touch and explore. Unique, new materials may fulfil your child’s sensory needs and help them forget about scratching. This form of distraction is also important to those babies with eczema, as scratching can often worsen their rash, so by putting something in their hand, they can’t touch their face. Babies are also intrigued by bright colours and shapes, so keep this in mind when selecting a toy.
Another form of distraction is engaging with your baby. You might feel silly, but sometimes, pulling a funny face or singing a song can be enough to stop baby scratching. Your expressive face and voice can cheer them up, as well as comfort them and provide entertainment. You could even try gently holding their hands while doing so. This can bring a sense of closeness to your baby during the play and obviously encourage them to keep their hands away from their face.
A new snack (when appropriate)
If your baby is old enough and into the weaning stage, you could provide them with a small new snack to hold. Of course, it is always important to consider the amount you feed your baby, so we only encourage you to do this if all else fails. But trying a new food may satisfy your baby’s need to put their hands to their face and also gives them something to hold so their hands are fisted.
What is sensory play? Sensory play is another great way to distract your baby from scratching. If your baby is still a new-born, this could be as simple as letting them feel new textures or see some colourful lights. As your baby grows, although they may have grown out of the scratching habit, you could introduce tummy-time, which takes the ability to scratch their face away from the baby because their hands will be busy trying to prop themselves up.
When your baby reaches the stage where they can provide their own entertainment in things like play, the scratching will have already subsided, and their skin will have toughened slightly. For this reason, we advise you to help your young baby as they cannot entertain themselves.
Don’t feel guilty!
We cannot deny that witnessing your baby scratching and seeing your baby’s delicate skin covered in scratch marks is heart breaking, but it is out of everybody’s control, including your baby’s! As long as you take the necessary steps to help reduce the scratching, your baby will be okay. The scratches rarely leave scars as they only scrape the surface of the skin and do not penetrate, and baby skin heals quickly, which means the marks will not last!
However, if the scratching is accompanied by a red, dry rash on your baby’s skin, we advise you to see your doctor for a potential eczema diagnosis.
The worse thing you can do for your baby is panic, they feel when you are not yourself, so remain calm always!