How to get my baby to stop scratching his head?
June 14, 2017 7:44 PM   Subscribe

My eight-month-old baby will not stop scratching his head. I've tried every cream, ointment and shampoo there is. What's going on here?

Background: this began maybe three months-ish and was diagnosed as cradle cap. I tried several brands of baby oil, went back to the ped, was given steroid cream. At six month checkup, was told he has eczema and was given two additional steroid creams, and a medicated baby oil for the head. He's still scratching, usually up around the ears and back of his head.

Sometimes, he draws a little little blood. Most of the time, I examine him carefully and find no rash or redness or obvious sign of irritation. My mom has noticednhe does it more when he's tired and has suggested that the 'eczema' or whatever itmis might actually be cleared up and this could be a 'nervous habit' at this point. Can a baby his age even have a nervous habit?

He's formula-fed and on baby purees right now with no obvious reactions, but the eczema gene is strong in this family. I just don't understand why it's not clearing up, and since most of the time, there is no obvious redness or irritation, I'm at a loss for how to fix this. Ideas?
posted by ficbot to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It is really normal for babies to do things like pulling on their ears when they're tired. I knew one baby who would bat at his face in increasing intensity when he was sleepy, until he'd accidentally smack himself and cry. I wouldn't say "nervous habit" but more like "undeveloped motor skills and brain signals not really sending useful messages all the time".

It's very possible that he discovered that scratching feels nice, doesn't know when to stop because he's a baby, and because babies have razors for fingernails, is just messing himself up. I'd redirect his little hands every time you catch him, maybe into a game of patty cake or "SO BIG" or whatever ends up working best, and then if necessary add a verbal "No scratching!" while you move his hands away. Even if there IS a reason he's scratching, scratching it won't cure it.
posted by padraigin at 7:58 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]

This doesn't sound unusual - babies scratching themselves is one of the reasons you see them wearing those little mittens. It's quite possible it's completely unrelated to the eczema, or it's possible that he 'learned' the movement that way and is doing it as a stress reaction to random things now. Some of the reasons I've seen mothers give for their babies scratching their heads were teething, stress from being about to hit a new developmental milestone, being tired, etc. I think just googling 'baby scratching head' would give you a ton of reassuring stories to look through.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 8:05 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]

I would suspect possible misfiring basic self-soothing. This might be a good time to introduce a lovey, if you haven't already.
posted by vunder at 8:53 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]

Are you still using shampoo? Shampoo does this to my (adult) scalp - I get super duper itchy esp behind/over the ears. No need to use shampoo for babies.
posted by The Toad at 8:59 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]

Babies try all kinds of stuff out. Get him a hat. Get him some toys. Get him crawling and moving about. If you have to find a helmet, then do it, just until the compulsion clears up.
posted by Oyéah at 9:02 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]

I remember laying in my crib, rubbing my ear, looking up at the ceiling, in the dim glow of the nightlight.

I was also a thumb sucker, with am pillow to hug. That went on for years, both me and my sister (hiding the thumb sucking behind the pillow).

Don't be too dismayed at this behavior, it's probably normal.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 9:12 PM on June 14

For awhile, I was cutting my son's fingernails every single night because he would scratch his face. This was around 8-12 months. And there was nail to cut every night because they grew that fast. I'd file the edges down too if they were rough. Maybe approach it from that way? I'd also pull his hands away from his face and say, "I won't let you scratch your face." And then give him something else to distract him. My son used to pull his ears pretty hard around that age. I think they're very sensory oriented and pulling and scratching is normal. I think it's probably not a nervous habit and more, "Oooooh, that feels weird. DO IT MORE. MORE SENSORY INPUT. I CAN FEEL THINGS IN MY HEAD AND MY HAND, WOOOO!" Babies are like little stoners all the time.

My son had eczema too (mostly around his mouth and chin) and it's faded out. (He's almost two now.) Now he gets very, very mild flare-ups when he's sick. Honestly, I took him to a dermatologist at around 8 mos old because he was trying to learn to crawl so he was always faceplanting on the floor and bits of CARPET would get stuck in the rash and I'd practically have to debride his face in the bath. They gave us a steroid ointment and it kiiiind of helped and I stopped using soap or bubble bath or shampoo. He mostly had to stop teething and grow out of it.
posted by Aquifer at 9:23 PM on June 14 [8 favorites]

That's why some babies sleep with mittens at night. You can use oversized long sleeved pjs and just sew the sleeves shut in a pinch. It can be a loop in that a healing scratch becomes fun to scratch and then that becomes a habit. If there's no skin condition, mittens at night and distracting toys like play doh and things with knobs and texture for lots of hand sensation during the day.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 10:37 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]

Did the doc say it definitely wasn't a fungal infection?
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:49 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]

My son scratched his head to self-soothe since was was a baby. He's 15 months now and still does it but has figured out how to not draw blood, just gives himself a nice scalp massage as he's falling asleep.

I just kept his fingernails as short as possible and put a little ointment on his head if he broke the skin.
posted by lydhre at 3:31 AM on June 15

I will add to the chorus of people saying that this is a normal self-soothing thing. My 20 month old toddler has done it since she was a tiny baby, and mostly doesn't hurt herself anymore unless I let her nails get too long. When she was quite small she rubbed off a lot of her hair on the back of her head near her neck! Now when I see her scratching I take it as a sign that she needs to get to bed ASAP.
posted by booky at 6:49 AM on June 15

Aloe is good for any skin healing needs and is non-toxic. Does he have other self-soothing options, like thumb, pacidier, blankie?

also, there is no picture of ficbaby cuteness, which is in violation of community standards...
posted by theora55 at 7:48 AM on June 15

theora55, here is the little scratcher :-)

He does have a pacifier and a lovey. I'm reading the other suggestions; thank you for all the replies :-)
posted by ficbot at 8:03 AM on June 15 [2 favorites]

I know you said you've tried all the creams, and I know exactly what you mean. As an eczema sufferer, the only thing that really works for me is prescription creams that are so high-potency that they come with warnings, like clobetasol, and you can't put that on a baby. The closest thing that I found that I liked was Aveeno lotion, but it just kept eczema at bay for awhile.

But today I am here to recommend a lotion that works better than anything else: Stelatopia by the brand Mustela. Available at Target and probably elsewhere.

When my son was an infant, he developed pretty bad eczema on his legs. I used Baby Aveeno lotion on him, which removed redness but left patchiness behind. As an eczema sufferer myself, I knew that was about the best that could be hoped for. It's an itchy life. However, I did have good success with the Mustela shampoo for his cradle cap (along with gentle exfoliation with a washcloth), and recommended that to my sister when my nephew ended up with a very similar case of eczema/cradle cap to your son's. He would scratch when tired, and often broke the skin, and my sister liked the Mustela shampoo but it didn't do enough. So she ended up buying the Stelatopia lotion to see if it would work. And oh my gosh, it works so well! I started using it on my son's eczema patches and now his legs are smooth like he doesn't even have eczema. And I've used it myself, and it's far and away better than Aveeno lotion, which is shocking.

There is literally nothing else on the market, over the counter or prescription, that comes close to the Stelatopia lotion (at least without a warning label), and yet it's sold in the baby section of Target. If you haven't tried it, I highly highly recommend it.
posted by aabbbiee at 1:59 PM on June 15 [3 favorites]

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