I want to say that babies are such unique creatures. One minute they’ll laugh loudly at anything random and cry the next second, for no particular reason sometimes (weird, right?). One such weird behavior that I’ve noticed in some babies (mine included) is hair pulling. A baby pulling her own hair can seem daunting for new parents or parents who haven’t experienced this with any other of their children.
But, doctors have stated that this behavior where babies pull their own hair is quite normal. Though it can seem frightening to us, it’s actually not painful for babies. On the contrary, it actually makes them feel comforted and safe.
Hair pulling goes hand in hand with hair twirling or thumb-sucking; it makes them feel relaxed and comforted. There are many reasons why babies pull their hair, like if they are cranky, tired, sleepy, nursing, teething, or when they want to get a reaction from you. Some of these reasons can trigger such behavior. But, you can also prevent your baby from pulling her hair, such as cutting off her hair, by showing no reaction, offering something else to hold on to, saying no, and not overreacting. But if this behavior worsens or seems too violent, it can indicate Trichotillomania, and you should immediately consult your pediatrician.
Why does your baby pull her hair?
Babies can’t communicate their feelings to us (I wish they could, it would’ve made things so easy, but alas, they can’t!), so they give out different reactions like crying, screaming, and pulling their hair is one of them. But, they don’t do it all the time, if you’ve noticed. Some certain situations or moods trigger this behavior like…
Your baby is too tired
You might’ve noticed that your baby pulls her hair mostly around her bedtime. This indicates that she is too tired and is ready to sleep. Some babies suck their thumb or twirl your hair or her hair; this action helps them feel relaxed and calm and is a self-soothing mechanism.
With my little one, it was always during the last feed before he’s going to sleep at night that he’ll start pulling his hair. When this started repeating every day, I would soon find new creative ways to stop him from doing it. One was me letting him hold my finger. It’s a silly trick, but hey! Do what works for you.
Your baby is cranky
Your baby might pull her hair when she’s becoming fussy; this may be because she’s overstimulated, meaning, for example, she’s sleepy, and yet she’s awake because maybe the lights are on, or the environment is not right around her. This can cause your baby to become cranky or fussy.
Your baby is curious
Your baby explores her world through their hands, eyes, and mouth, and when she’s out discovering, she stumbles upon something, and she is curious about it. So, it’s natural for her to repeat the behavior just because she wants to know what happens and because she’s able to do it.
Your baby is teething
Teething can be one of the reasons for hair and ear pulling. When those precious pearly whites are ready to make their grand debut, babies tend to pull their hair and ears, as they have irritation or pain in their jaw.
Your baby wants a reaction from you
One day suddenly, your baby pulls your hair, and you let out a scream or laugh at her action. Because of such a reaction, your baby wants to do it repeatedly, as it has become a game for her. She might even pull her own hair to see if you react to it like you once did.
Your baby has Trichotillomania
Trichotillomania is a rare disorder, but if the baby has this disorder, then the baby tends to pull out hair from her body, resulting in bald spots if the case is severe. You can see symptoms arise when the child is 9 to 13 years old, but the early onset is detected as early as 18 months.
When babies under the age of 4 are affected by this, the syndrome is called ‘baby trich.’ The good news is, when this disorder affects toddlers, it usually is only for the short-term, as they won’t remember the habit later in life.
Symptoms of Baby Trich are:
- Constant pulling or twisting hair from their body. This can also include eyelashes or eyebrows.
- Showing an urge right before they begin tugging.
- They might pull hair from one spot continuously, creating a bald spot.
How to stop your baby from pulling his hair
This tugging of hair is usually just a phase, so you don’t have to sweat it. As they grow, they’ll slowly forget or stop repeating this habit. Meanwhile, there are certain steps you can take to reduce the number of such episodes.
Break the hair pulling habit
The first step you need to take is to try to break the habit, not to let your baby indulge in hair-pulling. Take a step as soon as you recognize that she’s going for the hair.
- You can try cutting your baby’s hair short or tie it up in a ponytail if you have a girl. Even my baby (9months old) has the habit of pulling his hair right before bedtime when he’s really tired. So, he’ll start pulling his hair every time he’s feeding. The moment his hands go up to his head, it becomes painful for me to watch, and also, you never expect your baby to have such a strong grip. So the only solution for me was to cut his hair too short. Now, no matter how many times he tries to pull his hair, he ain’t getting anything in his hand to pull.
- Make your baby wear hats so that the temptation to pull her hair reduces.
- Try distracting them with other things. If your child is playing and suddenly start pulling her hair, then distract her with other toys, toys that she can fiddle with, or give something that you know grabs her attention instantly.
- Identify the situations or moments when she will start pulling her hair. Observe during which time your baby does it the most. The most common times are when they are sleepy or tired.
- Sometimes, as a treatment for ‘baby trich,’ doctors sometimes suggest placing bandages on the baby’s fingers to become difficult for them to pull their hair. But, you can try scratch sleeves or even teethers that you can make them wear on their hand, covering it. This will make it tough for them to pull their hair.
Show no reaction
If your little one is keen on throwing tantrums and pulling her hair as a sign of protest, then ignore her. Act like you’re unimpressed, and don’t change your stand. Try distracting them with something else or taking them someplace else. If they’re still continuing, then let them have a go at it. After a while, it’ll stop on its own when they realize it’s not working.
Try saying NO
When they start pulling their hair, gently take their hand off and tell them that it’s not alright for them to do that. If they’re pulling your hair, then tell that ‘no, baby. It hurts mommy.’ Try doing this every time they tend to pull their hair. Slowly the baby will understand that their behavior is not acceptable.
Also, be firm and assertive when you tell them NO. If you laugh or smile while saying no, they’ll consider it as a game you two are playing and will do it again and again.
Replace their action
Whenever they pull their hair, try redirecting their action to something else, like clapping their hands or stroking your cheek. Do this every time and do it consistently.
I know it’s tough to see your little one pulling her hair out forcefully, but remember, it’s just a phase, and it will slowly fade away. But, anyway, it’s better if you learn some tricks to divert her mind to something else. Be patient, kind, and consistent, and don’t fret about this behavior.
Remember that your child isn’t able to talk to you, so her actions are a medium through which they can convey their feelings. But, if the condition worsens, then your baby might need a proper diagnosis from her pediatrician.
Located in India and a mother to a joyfully mischievous son, Kelin is the wife of the world’s most patient man and a busy homemaker. When she’s not busy cooking and running after her kid, you can find her in a corner reading, or penning down words on her laptop. She believes the world will always try to instil ‘mom guilt’ in new mothers, but she goes by the maxim ‘a mother knows best’.