The most common reason your new arrival is busy rubbing her face on your chest is because of a rooting reflex all newborns have. According to Stanford Children’s Health, these reflexes are involuntary actions or movements that are spontaneous or responses to certain actions that occur only in specific periods of development.
Even though it feels nice when your newborn is rubbing against you with her sweet head, if she’s rubbing her face on your chest, there might be a good reason. Her rubbing behavior is a clue to what she needs at that particular moment.
Why does newborn face rubbing on the chest happen?
It’s not well documented why newborns rub their faces against their parent’s chest or any other rhythmic neck and head motions.
The research is limited about this behavior, but there are myths about why newborns rubbing their face against the chest or grinding their face into your shoulder happen.
Here are several reasons your newborn is rubbing her face on your chest and what you can do about it to prevent any accidents.
1. Newborn rubbing face on your chest is a sign of hunger
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the most probable reason for your newborn rubbing her face on your chest is the complex rooting reflex that they have at an early age that helps her find the nipple when she is hungry.
These reflexes usually are temporary and go away as they get older. Grinding their face on your chest, swinging their head around, and even headbanging are all rooting reflex behaviors newborns exhibit when they try to find the nipple.
Your newborn can not tell you when she is hungry, so she will use nonverbal signs to let you know that it is time to feed her. But, if it is not the hunger, then you might want to swing her around or give her a pacifier or any other comfort object.
2. Newborn rubbing face on the chest is a sign of self-soothing
Even though your newborn behavior might not look normal to you, she may be doing it to self-soothe. For example, you may have noticed that newborns rock their heads from side to side to soothe themselves, and face rubbing does not look different than this.
When your newborn is sleeping on her back, she will swing her head side to side, but when you are holding her on your chest, she will rub her face on your chest while trying to fall asleep.
All this behavior has nothing to do with the rooting reflex, but it is a self-soothing way for your newborn.
3. Newborn rubbing face on your chest is a sign of tiredness
Another possible reason why your newborn is rubbing her face on your chest is to give you a signal that she is tired and needs to sleep.
Just like older babies or adults will rub their eyes or ears when they are tired, your newborn might give you a signal that she needs to sleep by rubbing or banging her face on your chest when you hold her.
So before the face rubbing on your chest escalates, recognize the early signs of tiredness and sleep and take her for a nap or start your nightly ritual.
4. Newborn rubbing face on your chest is a sign of snot in her nose
For newborns with Nasal Congestion, this is a possibility. They may bang or rub their face vigorously against your chest to remove snot from their nose.
It makes perfect sense that their nose is itchy and uncomfortable when it’s stuffy, so they attempt to clear by rubbing their nose on your chest.
5. Newborn rubbing face on your chest as a sign of reflux
You may want to look for reflux in your newborn if you have ruled out that tiredness and hunger are not the reason for her rubbing her face against your chest by observing if she has refused to eat or go to sleep sometime during the day.
Studies have shown that these abnormal and vigorous movements and rubbing of the upper torso, including the neck and the head, are associated with a form of Sandifer’s syndrome, a gastroesophageal reflux disease in newborns and most babies.
You will observe these movements just after the feeding or during the feeding.
Also, you may find your newborn tilting her head and repeatedly rotating their neck towards the left shoulder. There is a chance that they may have reflux.
Not all newborns that rub their faces on their parent’s chests present these abnormal head movements when they have reflux disease, but those that do, do it to reduce reflux.
Other reasons why your newborn is rubbing her face on your chest
Other many reasons why your newborn buries her head and rubs her face include:
- The reintroduction of cow’s milk protein in your baby’s diet causes a relapse of abnormal head shaking and rubbing.
- Food allergies may also lead to this type of abnormal head movement and face rubbing according to a research study published in 2000 conducted on 15 days old breastfed babies affected by reflux. A significant drop of the face ribbing on the parent’s chest was when the mother stopped feeding the baby a cow milk protein diet.
- Another study also suggested that another reason your baby is rubbing her face on your chest is that these head movements are learned behaviors and they do it because they may find temporary relief from their discomfort and they might carry on practicing the same movement over and over again.
- Newborns with eczema or thrush may also exhibit a similar type of face rubbing on the chest. Just look out for all the possibilities.
What can I do?
As a parent to a newborn, it sometimes takes a long time to decode the newborn’s non-verbal language into something meaningful, and it’s always challenging to know what she wants.
When your newborn’s strange behavior first comes to light, you want to keep an eye on the same over the next couple of days. You want to look for what the triggers are and when she is doing it, in this case, a newborn rubbing her face against your chest.
Finding out why your little one is face rubbing on your chest will give you an idea of an action you should take to ease the discomfort, and you will want to act accordingly before the face rubbing escalates to full-blown crying.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Why do babies cover their faces with their hands?
The reasons why babies cover their eyes, ears, and face with their hands could be related to many things such as them covering their face as a way to self regulate, to express their feelings of fear or anxiety, or just as a way to block out too many sensory stimuli.
But there’s a difference between children who actively avoid eye contact and those that haven’t yet grasped how to use eye contact during communication.
For those babies that are active avoiders, there is a sensory component where it is dreadful for them to make direct eye-to-eye contact with the target.
Also, babies may have difficulties attaching to the facial cues of their caregivers and peers, which translates to the child’s social- communication skills.
Why do babies rub their heads back and forth?
It is familiar to see young babies head-rolling, face rubbing, and head-banging at bedtime or during the night, disturbing parents. These young ones do it because it soothes them to fall back to sleep, for comfort, and because it is rhythmic.
They might hit their heads on the floor, on the headboard, the edges of the cot, or get on their all fours and start rocking back and forth.
How do I stop my baby from rubbing her face at night?
If your baby is securely attached to their blanket or even their teddy bear, instead of crying out in the middle of the night needing comfort from mom to go back to sleep, she will find her beloved blanket and rub it on her face, snuggle it, sniff it and even suck on it and fall right back to sleep. This is your baby using her blanket to self-soothe.
Welcome to the club, mamas! You now know all the possible reasons why your newborn is rubbing her face on your chest. I hope it helps you ease all your anxieties about why your baby is rubbing her face against your chest and enables you to take appropriate action before it escalates.
Often, face rubbing or other abnormal head movements in newborns is a sign of tiredness or hunger. But, if you think something is not right, it is best to contact your child’s healthcare provider to rule out any possibilities.
Do you know any other reason why a newborn baby would be rubbing her face against your chest? Leave a comment below.