Baby Aggressively Rubbing Face: Causes and Solutions

A lot of things your baby does might confuse you, but behaviors like face rubbing can cause many new parents concern. It’s especially worrying when they do it while they’re sleeping and wake themselves up, or if the rubbing is accompanied by wailing and crying. You’re probably wondering why is your baby aggressively rubbing their face, whether it’s a sign of a problem, and what you can do to stop it. Let’s address each of those questions one by one.

Why Do Babies Rub Their Faces?

Until babies are old enough to communicate, parents spend a lot of time looking for meaning in their behaviors and cries to figure out exactly what they’re needing. This can be tricky when it comes to face rubbing because there are a variety of reasons babies might be touching their cheeks, ears, or eyes, and not all of them are a cause for concern.

Some babies start rubbing their faces as a self-soothing mechanism when they’re feeling uncomfortable or anxious for whatever reason. This could be something to do with the part they’re touching. If they touch their mouth and cheeks a lot they may be teething, while constant rubbing of the ears could be a sign of an ear infection, and general scratching at or rubbing of the skin could be because they’re itchy.

Face rubbing can also be a sign of other discomforts. It’s common for babies to do when they’re tired, and this is especially likely to be the case if they’re rubbing around their eyes. It could also be a sign that they’re hungry, in which case their attention will likely be focused more on their mouth, and they may reach out and rub you, too.

Remember that babies are discovering everything about their world for the first time, and that includes their own bodies. Light touching and rubbing of the cheeks, nose, mouth, or ears could be a part of this, and is completely natural and normal. The problem is, it’s hard to differentiate this type of exploratory rubbing from a sign that your baby is uncomfortable.

When Is Face Rubbing a Problem?

With all these potential causes of face rubbing, how can you tell when it’s really a problem? Here are some signs that you should talk to your pediatrician:

  • They have a fever of 101° or higher. If your baby is rubbing their ears and running a fever, this is a likely sign they have an ear infection. A pediatrician can diagnose if this is the case and prescribe antibiotics or other treatments to help.
  • Their skin has red, dry, or flaky patches. That relentless face rubbing could be your baby trying to scratch an itch. Babies’ skin is sensitive, and they may be more bothered by stiff fabrics or chemicals like clothing dyes than you are as an adult. Your baby may also have a skin condition like eczema that’s causing their itching. If you see a rash or other irregularities on the skin where your baby is rubbing, consult your pediatrician to find out where it came from and how you can relieve the discomfort.

Solutions for Baby Aggressively Rubbing Face

Since face-rubbing is a self-soothing behavior, you won’t have much luck trying to stop the behavior itself. Instead, you need to figure out why your baby is touching their face, and fix that issue so that they’re comfortable and don’t need to be soothed. Here are some things to try when your baby is aggressively rubbing their face:

  1. Put them down for a nap. Even adults rub their eyes when they’re tired. In many cases, babies will turn to soothing behaviors like touching and rubbing when they’re tired or over-stimulated. Give them some nap time, then watch them when they wake up to see if the rubbing stops.
  2. Give them a teething aid. Teething is uncomfortable, and babies will rub at their cheeks or mouth to try and relieve the pain. Chewing on a chilled teething ring, pacifier, or damp washcloth can help give them a little bit of extra relief.
  3. Switch to softer, chemical-free bedding. If the face-rubbing seems to start after your baby’s in their crib, it could be that their sheets or pillows are making them itchy. Changing to softer, hypoallergenic bedding could be the solution to make them more comfortable. You may also want to check the labels of any lotions, soaps, or other things you use on your baby’s skin to rule out an allergy as the source of the rubbing.

What’s the Bottom Line?

Face-rubbing can be a worrying behavior for parents. The good news is, in most cases it’s not a sign of a long-term problem. We hope this article has set your mind at ease, and given you some options to try the next time your baby starts rubbing their face.

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One thing I didn’t realize before having kids of my own, though, is how much stuff babies need—and how complicated it can all get! With so many different options out there for things like car seats, strollers, and cribs, figuring out which ones are right for your family can feel confusing and anxiety-inducing, especially alongside all the other work you have to do to prepare your home for the new arrival.