You may have dreamed about what your baby would look like when they were finally born. You may have even shown off your ultrasound pictures to anyone who’d sit still long enough. Perhaps you and your partner debated whether your little one would have your nose or their ears.
And once your little one arrived, there was just something so perfect about their little face. You could stare at it for hours.
Now, after all that, seeing scratch marks all over your baby’s face can be distressing. Why are they doing this to themselves, and what can you do to help prevent and treat these scratches? Don’t worry, we can explain it all (and offer some tips and tricks!).
There are numerous reasons why your baby’s face may end up with a few scratches. Some of the most common include:
Babies don’t have full control over their bodies when they’re first born. Instead, reflexes control many of their movements. One common newborn reflex is an involuntary startle response called the Moro reflex.
As a result of this reflex, when babies are startled by loud noises, sudden movements, or life in general, they typically react by arching their back and extending their arms and legs, followed by curling in again. Their hands may jerk toward their face, and they may accidentally scratch themselves.
Sound awful? Fear not, this won’t last forever! Between 3 and 6 months of age, you’ll probably notice that your baby no longer appears to have the Moro reflex. You’ll know this reflex is going away when your baby’s movements become more controlled and less jerky.
You can also help your baby advance in this area by giving them space to stretch their arms and legs each day. This will help them develop the necessary muscles!
Skin irritation or itchiness
As your baby’s skin adjusts to life outside the womb, you’ll probably find that it gets a little dry. It may have rough patches, baby acne, or peeling. This is totally normal. Oftentimes, it isn’t a big deal and quickly works itself out. That said, it may elicit some scratches in the meantime.
If, however, your baby has extra sensitive skin or develops a skin condition like eczema, you may find that their skin is more irritated and ends up easily scratched. In these cases, you’ll probably want to work to determine the triggers and discuss possible treatment options with their doctor.
Sharp baby nails
Though baby nails are tiny, they’re fierce! They grow quickly and tend to be as sharp as talons. Because babies frequently have their hands up near their faces (gotta love reflexes!), it’s easy for them to accidentally leave some cuts behind if their nails aren’t kept very short.
Baby nails also tend to grow back very quickly, so it’s easy to fall behind on their upkeep, which can lead to extra scratches.
If your little one keeps scratching their face, you’ll want to identify the cause and try out one of these potential solutions:
Give them a nail trim
If sharp nails are the problem, you’ll want to trim them back so they aren’t as sharp and can’t do as much damage. Good times to cut your baby’s nails include when they’re sleeping or feeding. (In other words, times when they’re calm or otherwise distracted!)
It’s important to stay calm yourself, and it’s OK if it takes several tries to get to all those little fingers and toes. If you find cutting your baby’s nails nerve-wracking, consider filing their nails instead. This can feel safer, as the nail is slowly whittled away instead of trimmed in one quick cut.
While filing drastically reduces the likelihood of accidentally nipping your baby, it tends to take a little longer, so you’ll need to be ready to keep your little one distracted and calm for a longer period of time.
Use mittens and/or swaddles
If jerky, sporadic movements toward their face are causing their scratches, you can try covering your baby’s hands with mittens. Yes, they make tiny baby mittens for this exact purpose, but here’s a pro-tip — you can also use baby socks.
You can also try keeping their arms down to their sides with a swaddle, at least for the first few months until they begin rolling over.
Seem simple? If you have a baby Houdini on your hands, wrapping up your wiggly little one might be harder than you think! Fortunately, lots of swaddle options are on the market (plus our helpful how-to video) to help you on your quest to keep their face scratch-free.
Try treatments for itchy or irritated skin
If the scratches are due to dry or itchy skin, consider moisturizing their skin or trying an anti-itch cream made for baby skin.
If your baby’s skin doesn’t seem to be improving with over-the-counter options, consult your child’s pediatrician. They can advise you on the safest options and when they’re appropriate to apply.
If you find scratches on your baby’s face, you’ll want to wash the area gently but thoroughly. After patting the area dry, you may opt to treat it with a moisturizer or antiseptic cream.
Many experts believe that cuts and scratches heal best when they’re kept a little moist. Vaseline, Aquaphor, or bacitracin are all examples of products that can provide a barrier against germs while keeping scratched skin moist.
Depending on the size and depth of the scratch, a small Band-Aid may be necessary, but it’s usually not. If you do use a bandage, be sure to check it often and remove it as soon as it’s loose or soiled.
In addition to treating the physical scratch, you’ll want to ensure that the underlying cause is addressed. That might mean covering baby’s hands and nails or applying a dry skin treatment.
While it can be distressing to see scratches on your baby’s face, there’s a very low risk of scarring or permanent damage. Baby skin heals quickly, and scratches just tend to be on the surface.
Still, you’ll want to keep an eye on more severe scratches to make sure that they don’t get too deep or constantly reopened, as they’re more likely to scar or become infected.
There’s nothing more beautiful than your baby. While a few scratches certainly won’t make you think otherwise, you don’t want your baby to hurt themselves or end up with an infection.
A few simple steps can reduce the number of scratches on their face, but know that it’s highly unlikely that your little one will do much damage scratching themselves.
If they somehow manage to get a scratch or two, simply clean the wound and keep an eye on the scratch. Fortunately, there’s a very low chance of future scars on the face you love staring at so much!