You might have noticed that your baby frequently touches and scratches their face, which can be a little concerning for new parents, especially if they find scratch marks on their tiny faces.
The truth is that this is normal behavior for babies for the first few months because they are exploring and learning about new sensations and the world around them. There are a lot of behaviors from a baby that may be considered odd by adults, but that is the way they develop and grow.
This shouldn’t worry you most of the time, but let’s explore the different reasons why baby scratching face occurs and a few ways to prevent it.
Why do babies scratch their face?
Your baby may be scratching their face for several reasons. These are the most common ones.
Remember your baby was inside a whole different universe where they couldn’t feel their bodies. Try touching your face while underwater. Does it feel the same? It doesn’t.
So babies try touching their face to discover each part, how it feels and how each body part responds. This is how babies develop environmental awareness. They send messages to their brains by touching and discovering, and neurons start mapping and filing information.
But the thing is that newborns have no control over their movements and that exploration can lead to accidentally scratching their face and sometimes marking it.
They will also touch and explore other people’s faces to later recognize them, especially in the first weeks when eyesight has not fully developed, and they need to rely on touch to understand their surroundings.
Later, exploration with their hands will turn into putting their mouths on everything they can grasp, but that’s another different story.
Newborns cannot control most of their movements until 3 to 6 months old, so most of the time, those body movements are reflexes that respond to specific stimulation.
Have you noticed that if you make a sudden movement or there’s a loud noise, your baby will throw their arms and legs and jerk their neck in response? That’s called ‘Moro reflex’ or startle reflex.
This is part of normal development. You should be concerned if your newborn doesn’t show signs of Moro reflex or only does on one side of their body because that may indicate a neurological issue that must be addressed by a professional.
This is normal and involuntary, and since there’s no control of the movement, scratching can happen.
Babies’ skin is very susceptible to drying out and losing moisture either because they are bathed too often, soaps that are too harsh, applying too much talc, or the weather affects their skin because it’s too hot or humidity levels are too low.
Signs that your baby needs to be moisturized include dry, flaky, and itchy skin, or you may notice that it looks irritated and your baby keeps deliberately scratching it.
Different skin conditions affect your baby’s skin, like dermatitis, eczema, scabies, or miliaria. These conditions leave your skin partially or fully covered with itchy rashes, which may cause your baby to scratch.
If you notice signs of a skin condition, there are over-the-counter options. Still, we strongly recommend seeking help from a medical professional to treat them and prevent future complications.
As thin as baby nails seem, they are as sharp as they get! Remember how a paper cut stings? Well, those paper-thin nails can inflict similar cuts.
When they scratch the skin, they can leave paper cut-like marks. And baby nails grow fast, so they need to be frequently trimmed to prevent your baby from scratching everything they touch.
Upset babies will flail and claw at the air as a way to handle the emotions flying inside their little brains that they otherwise can’t express.
Those emotions need to be released somehow from hunger, needing a diaper change, feeling hot or cold, or simply because they feel the need to be reassured and soothed by you, and crying and moving is the only way they know how to do it.
They may accidentally scratch their faces or even you if you’re nearby during their flailing.
How to prevent baby scratches
As we’ve said before, most of the time, the reason behind your baby scratching their face or any other part of their body is an involuntary response or uncoordinated movement. This will slowly fade as the little one grows.
But in the meantime, we need to deal with said scratches and prevent them as much as possible, especially if they start bleeding or reopen an old scratch.
The first thing that comes to mind is using baby mittens to cover the baby’s hands so that when they move around, they don’t accidentally scratch their skin. However, this interferes with the process of them discovering and learning by touching the things around them.
Also, if your baby sucks on their thumb or any other finger, this will not allow them to do so and cause them distress. Either way, mittens are a common option, and you can substitute them with baby socks. Also, there are a lot of pajamas that come with a flap that you can turn to cover your baby’s hands.
Moisturizing your baby
Include moisturizing in the baby’s care routine to avoid getting the baby’s skin dry. They have very sensitive skin that can be affected by many things that may be normal for an older child or an adult, so use a baby moisturizer, not one for adults or older children, to prevent moisture loss.
The soap and shampoo you use for bath time should be intended for babies as well, and any sort of talc or powder should be avoided because they are made with ingredients that dry out the skin and can cause respiratory issues. Creams that turn into talc when dry and home remedies like corn starch also have the same effect, and you need to keep your baby’s skin moisturized. Use those sparingly and only as required to keep an area dry.
Trimming a baby’s nails
Your baby’s nails should be trimmed at least once a week. This can be tricky at first, especially if you’re using nail clippers, so try doing it when the baby is asleep or distracted with toys or music so you can firmly hold the fingers and cut those razor-sharp nails. If needed, ask someone to help you hold them; remember safety first.
If you are scared of accidentally nipping a tiny finger while cutting their nails, you could try filing them with a standard baby nail file or an electric nail trimmer. Trimming the baby’s nails will considerably lower the chances of deeper scratches.
Baby Skin issues
More severe skin issues should be treated by a medical professional so if you notice constant scratching, skin irritation, baby eczema, or a rash, consult your pediatrician so they can prescribe you the correct treatment.
Finally, learn from their behavioral cues to understand if the movements are an emotional response to the environment (temperature, sounds, light, etc.) or the baby is uncomfortable because of hunger, needs a diaper change, or feels sick. Sometimes they only want to be comforted by you, and that’s their way of showing it.
How to treat scratches on a baby
Normally a baby can only manage a surface scratch that doesn’t even break the skin barrier. But on occasion, they will manage to draw some blood, and parents need to treat the wound.
In those cases, simply clean the small scratches with lukewarm water and pat dry the area. You can apply a little moisturizer or antiseptic cream to avoid skin infections. The baby skin heals quickly, so in no time you won’t even notice it.
If the baby scratches the same place more than once, the scratch could get a little deeper, so repeat the cleaning and disinfecting the cut, and place a small bandaid to prevent scarring on the little one. However, once the wound is closed and has stopped bleeding, you need to remove the bandaid to allow it to heal properly.
How to stop baby scratching face at night
If during the day, when they are alert and awake, they have very little control, at night, babies have no control whatsoever, and that’s when the baby scratches their face more frequently.
So, make sure their nails are properly trimmed and, if the baby doesn’t need to suck on their thumb, cover their tiny hands with the foldable sleeves of their nighty, with mittens or baby socks to prevent scratches.
When do babies stop scratching their face?
Babies usually stop scratching at somewhere between 4 and 6 months old when they have developed full control over their movements and become more intentional.
So don’t worry, this is just a phase and won’t last forever.
We’ve all been caught looking at our beautiful baby’s face and would love that they always stay as perfect as when we first see them, so it’s understandable that especially a new parent becomes concerned when they find marks on their baby’s face.
So stay calm and remember that scratches heal. This is just all part of the process of raising your little one.