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Baby Scratching Face: Why Does It Happen And How To Prevent It

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Babies are born with sensitive skin susceptible to scratching easily. Even activities such as bathing and massaging may cause you to scratch their delicate skin accidentally. However, when you notice scratches on their face, you may become upset and anxious. But soon enough, you realize that it is your baby who has been scratching their face.

A baby scratching their face is usually normal, yet parents should be cautious about it.  Read on to know why babies scratch their faces, ways to prevent scratch marks, and how to avoid any accidental skin infections due to scratching.

Why Do Babies Scratch Their Face?

There are several reasons why a baby scratches their face. Some of the common ones include.

  1. Exploring face: According to research, touching one’s face is an instinct that babies develop in utero. It is considered a sign of healthy fetal development, and the habit continues after birth. Exploring one’s body and the desire to sense new sensations could make a baby touch their face and scratch it accidentally. It could be the reason for scratch marks on the baby’s face when no other apparent reasons are present (1).
  1. Moro reflex: Newborns do not have adequate control of most body movements until they are a few weeks old (2). It is when reflexes come into use. Moro reflex, also known as the startle reflex, is an involuntary response wherein a baby arches their back and throws their arms, legs, and neck in response to a sudden movement or loud noise. It is during this involuntary reflex that a baby may touch their face and scratch it accidentally.
  1. Sharp nails: Although babies have thin nails, they grow pretty fast. Sometimes, you may need to trim them twice a week (3). If you forget to upkeep, a baby may accidentally scratch themselves at any time.
  1. Dry skin: Babies have thin and permeable skin susceptible to moisture loss. Bathing the baby too often, using harsh soap, and prolonged exposure to hot or cold weather conditions with low humidity can degrade their skin barrier, causing moisture loss (4). Moisture loss can make ababy’s skin dry and flaky, triggering itchiness and irritation.
  1. Skin conditions: Atopic dermatitis, eczema, scabies, and miliaria (prickly heat or baby heat rash) are some skin conditions that cause itchy skin rashes (5). These may cause the baby to scratch their skin often. The itchiness due to these skin conditions resolves or alleviates once the treatment begins.

When Do Babies Stop Scratching Their Face?

Based on the cause, a baby may cease scratching their face within a few weeks after birth or take a little longer. For instance, scratching the face due to uncontrolled movements may end once the baby has better control of their muscles and body movements. Treating skin conditions can stop scratching or may alleviate it to a significant extent.

In most cases, a baby scratching their face is a temporary issue and seldom causes scarring. However, if the scratching persists or worsens, consult a pediatrician. Sustained scratching might cause deep grooves, which may make the baby’s skin susceptible to infections.

How To Prevent Babies From Scratching Their Face?

You can prevent a baby from scratching their face by identifying and avoiding the triggers. Here are some of the tips that you could try.

  1. Skin moisturization: Apply a gentle, unscented moisturizing lotion twice a day to retain and add moisture to the skin. You can also prevent skin dryness by limiting your baby’s bath time, avoiding harsh soaps, and dressing them in clothes made of light fabrics. Adequate skin moisturization can help avoid dryness-related scratching to a great extent.
  1. Nail trimming: Timely nail trimming or clipping can prevent accidental scratching of the face. Calm moments, such as when the baby is sleeping or feeding, are the best times to cut their nails. You can use a baby nail clipper to trim or an emery board to file your baby’s nails (6). Stay calm while trimming or filing your baby’s nails to prevent accidental cutting and nipping that may cause
  1. Covering hands: Swaddling wraps your baby’s hands and is a suitable way to prevent accidental scratching of the face due to uncontrolled movements. Alternatively, you can use soft mittens or socks to cover the baby’s hands (6). Remove strings or any other accessory attached to mittens or socks to avoid accidental choking. The use of mittens is common; however, some experts feel that they are not needed if you trim or file the nails on time (7). Stay-on scratch sleeves are another option to check with your doctor if mittens aren’t helping much.
  1. Treating skin issues: If your baby has a skin problem, treating it is the best solution to prevent scratching. While you can try over-the-counter options to alleviate skin dryness, consulting a doctor to treat a skin condition is advisable. Prompt treatment is vital to protect your baby’s skin from further damage that might happen due to skin infections.

Besides these interventions, maintain a steady baby’s room temperature, especially during winter, when most households use heaters. Heaters reduce humidity, making a baby’s skin dry and triggering itchiness, which can lead to scratching.

How To Treat Scratches?

While preventing scratching is best, it is good to learn some tips to care for scratches already present.

  • Gently clean the scratches as soon as you notice them. Use lukewarm water and antibacterial soap to clean the area.
  • Pat the area dry and apply gentle, unscented moisturizer or antiseptic cream.
  • Leave deeper scratches open to heal. Keep the scratches moist with antibacterial creams or ointments that can act as a barrier against germs.
  • Trim your baby’s nails and cover their hands with mittens to ensure the baby doesn’t scratch their face further.

Scratches on a baby’s face can be upsetting to watch, but they seldom cause permanent skin damage. It is still preeminent to follow simple tips to prevent your baby from scratching their face. Keeping your baby’s skin moisturized, trimming their nails, and covering their hands with mittens are most likely to prevent scratches. If the baby still scratches their face, identify the possible cause, and treat it accordingly to prevent skin infections.

References:

1. Why we touch our faces so much – and how to break the habit; The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
2. Movement Milestones: Birth to 3 Months; Healthy Children; AAP
3. Nail Care: Fingers and Toes; Healthy Children; AAP
4. Dry skin; Raising children
5. Skin rashes in babies; Nidirect
6. Trimming baby nails; Raising children
7. How long is it appropriate to keep hand mittens on a newborn baby?; Healthy Children; AAP