Babies are fascinating little creatures, aren't they? While unable to speak, they can communicate with you in a variety of ways, even if it looks like it hurts, like when babies scratch themselves or when babies pull their own hair. Turns out that even then, they're sending you a message. According to Babies.co, a UK-based parenting website, when a baby under the age of 12 months pulls their own hair, it can be a sign of stress. For a baby, that usually means being upset, tired, or irritated about something. By pulling on his own hair, it is an attempt to self-soothe and feel in control of the situation around him.
Alternatively, sometimes a baby will pull his own hair because it is one thing he has figured out how to do. In an interview with Romper, Dr. Jen Trachtenberg, a pediatrician, author and creator of Pediatrician in Your Pocket, writes, "Baby may often start touching or playing with their hair as they begin to explore their environment that's within reach of their little arms and hands. Most often this fascination disappears on its own when something else gets their attention. For some infants, it may continue and become a comforting way to calm or self-soothe, especially when baby is overtired, upset, hungry, or even bored."
This self-comforting habit, usually between 1 month and 2 years of age, often goes hand-in-hand with thumb sucking, according to Trich Stop, a website that supports understanding about Trichotillomania, which I'll get to more in a moment. With thumb or fingers in the mouth, the baby reclines and twists his own or his mother's hair with the other hand. The child finds this relaxing and usually engages in the behavior before falling asleep or when he is distressed.
According to Baby Center, many parents struggle with the issue of baby's hair pulling in some form or another, and it usually happens around bedtime. Experts agree that if your baby pulls their hair shortly before going to sleep, it is a sign of tiredness. Putting them to bed earlier is one attempt at a solution. Next, if your baby pulls their hair when they get upset, it's likely a reaction to feeling stressed or anxious. Give lots of cuddles and reassurance and once again, take notes.
Does any of this sound familiar? If you've noticed your baby pulling his hair, it's important to observe your child to see if there's a pattern to when and where he is pulling his hair. These findings will be helpful for any potential conversations you have with your pediatrician on the subject.
Please also be aware that hair pulling can sometimes be a sign of something more serious. According to the Mayo Clinic, Trichotillomania, also called hair-pulling disorder, is a mental disorder that involves recurrent, irresistible urges to pull out hair from your scalp, eyebrows or other areas of your body, despite trying to stop. The Trich Stop website reports that while Trichotillomania is most likely to begin between the ages of 9 and 13, but any person can develop trichotillomania at any age, and it has been reported among infants as young as 1. And although symptoms range greatly in severity, location on the body, and response to treatment, most children with Trichotillomania pull enough hair over a long enough period of time that they have bald spots on their heads (or missing eyelashes, eyebrows, etc.) or in their pubic or underarm hair. While The Child Mind Institute noted that Trichotillomania is difficult to diagnose in very young children, it's treated primarily through cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), and a form of CBT called habit reversal therapy. In learning to become more self-aware, children are taught to recognize the emotions and triggers involved in their hair pulling. Some doctors recommend old-fashioned tricks like wearing bandages around the fingers and nails, or wearing hair pulled back or under a hat.
At the end of the day, remember that Trichotillomania is very rare. Being aware of your baby's patterns of pulling their hair, and taking notes when it happens, will make it that much easier for a doctor to diagnosis if there is indeed a problem. But chances are, your baby's just tired or irritated.