Why Does My Baby Rub Her Face On Me?

Newborns love cuddles. It can be such a wonderful time, laying together with your baby’s sweet head against your chest. But what about if she starts rubbing her face against your chest? You may be concerned if this rubbing behavior is normal or not.

Why Does My Baby Rub Her Face On Me?

For the most part, it is normal for newborns to rub their face against their mothers when they are hungry or self-soothing. The rooting reflex means its time for a feeding, this is the most common (and worry-free) reason for this face-rubbing behavior.

However, if your older baby or toddler is rubbing her face against you several times throughout the day, in addition to excessive crying, this could be cause for concern.

This post breaks down which type of face-rubbing is normal behavior, and when you may need to look out for other symptoms.

This article is not a substitute for medical advice or consultation.

Baby Rubbing Face On You – Possible Causes

Let’s dig deeper into what causes your baby to rub their face on you:

1. Hungry Baby

The number-one reason for a newborn to rub her face against mom’s chest is because she’s hungry.

  • Rooting Reflex

This action of a baby rubbing her face against mom’s chest, usually with an open mouth, is called the rooting reflex1. It’s one of the strongest reflexes a baby is born with and it helps them find their mom’s nipple and be able to nurse, even in the dark.

The rooting reflex is most prominent from birth until 4 months old. By around 6 months, most infants have shifted away from this normal behavior and may use noises or other expressions to show they are hungry.

Even if your baby is not breastfed, they still have this reflex. If your baby’s face is rubbing around the front of your shirt, this may be a sign they are hungry. Remember – newborns eat approximately every 3 hours, so hunger is always a good guess when a newborn is face rubbing mom’s chest.

What’s interesting, during the first few months of baby’s life you’ll be able to see not only the rooting reflex, but also different ones like for example Moro reflex – also called startle reflex. It causes baby to move during sleep and flail their arms and legs. This is perfectly normal thing!

Newborn Baby Face Rubbing On Your Chest - What You Can Do?

2. Self-soothing

Babies cannot speak, but they can smell! A newborn first knows their parents or primary caregivers by smell, then sound, and lastly by sight.

For a newborn, there is no sweeter smell than mom’s used pajama shirt – even if it’s sweaty and stinky. Why? Because it smells like mom!

If a young baby is rubbing her face against their caregiver’s chest or shoulder, it could be a way to self soothe, giving their nose a good whiff of their favorite smell and helping them calm down and relax.

3. Sleepy Cues

Another common reason babies rub their faces is being sleepy2.

  • Oculocardiac Reflex

Adults and babies alike rub their eyes when they are tired – but do you know why? When the nerves around our eyes are lightly pressed, they send signals to slow down our heart rate, helping us relax and fall asleep. The scientific name for this is the oculocardiac reflex3.

Your baby may not have developed the motor skills to rub only their eyes, though. You may see them rubbing their whole heads, or their eyes and ears when they are tired.

  • Snuggles

Now, if your little one just woke up from sleeping started rubbing her face against you, this is a common waking-up response, too – like snuggling. You probably do it with your pillow or even your partner after you wake up from a great sleep, too!

Check the time of day and calculate when your baby is due for their next nap before assuming head rubbing is a sure sign baby is tired and needs to sleep.

  • Dark & Comfortable

If your baby is putting their whole head against your chest, think of it like baby hiding in a dark, warm space. You are your baby’s favorite place, so this behavior is completely normal.

Other indicators your baby is rubbing her face because she is tired include:

4. Itchiness

If your little one isn’t hungry or needing sleep and she is still rubbing her face against mom or dad, then consider if needing to scratch an itch is the reason4.

While almost all babies have sensitive skin, some infants also have allergies and can react to baby-safe soaps and lotions. Check your baby’s face for signs of a rash, itchy spots or even eczema to figure out what might be causing the itchiness and frustration.

It could simply be that your baby finds your cashmere sweater uncomfortable and itchy. That’s an easy fix to stop the fussing, fast.

Baby Rubbing Face On You - Possible Causes

5. Seeking Comfort

Another reason a baby might be rubbing his or her head against you could be comfort-seeking.

If your baby rubs her head against you more than usual, look for these possible reasons:

  • Overstimulation

This is common in new environment, when a baby meets a new person or your regular routine is altered. Most babies want to be close to their favorite person – usually Mama and Daddy – when they are somewhere new and strange.

  • Feeling Unwell

If your little one is feeling under the weather (getting sick, just had a routine vaccination, or is teething) this sort of comfort-seeking behavior is totally normal.

Teething is a big reason why babies act like this: seeking comfort from their caregivers. It makes sense, because their mouth and gums are swollen and uncomfortable.

A pacifier or cold teething ring can help, but really, nothing beats cuddling against mama’s warm chest.

Should You Be Worried About Your Baby Rubbing Their Face On You?

In most cases, a baby rubbing his face is totally normal.

However, if face rubbing is paired with other signs and symptoms (excessive crying, struggling with feeding, using their own hands to scratch their face) then you may want to give your doctor or pediatrician a call.

Baby Rubbing Face On You - Possible Causes

Newborn Baby Face Rubbing On Your Chest – What You Can Do?

This is most likely the rooting reflex.

A newborn may rub against the chest or even into and armpit in search of the nipple to nurse.

If you are the mom, prepare a bottle or sit down for a feed. If you’re a friend or family member, then let the parents know baby is showing typical hunger signs or sleepy cues.

My Baby Rubs Their Face On Me – FAQ

The reason babies rub their head or face against their parents largely depends on age and the way they are rubbing their face: burying their face, or rubbing from side-to-side.

Why Does My Baby Bury Her Face In My Chest?

This is likely the rooting reflex (how baby finds mom’s nipple to nurse), a sign of fatigue and tiredness, or a way for baby to get cozy and comfortable.

You are your baby’s safe place, and if she is feeling over-stimulated, or just wants a warm and cozy place to cuddle, then your chest is the perfect place for snuggling and blocking out light, sounds and other stimuli.

Why Does My Toddler Rub Her Face On Me?

Your toddler may be in a new, uncomfortable environment and want to self soothe against you. They could be experiencing tiredness and need a rest, too.

However, if your toddler is wide awake and showing signs of general discomfort while rubbing their face against you, this could be a sign they are about to come down with an illness or infection.

You know your child best – are they full of energy and bouncing off the walls most days? But today they want constant attention, to be carried all the time, and are occasionally crying for what seems like nothing?

These are common signs that moms report with their little ones one or two days before the child gets sick. You don’t have to call your pediatrician just yet, but keep an eye out for flushed cheeks and warm skin, in case they do get a fever – then you should call your doctor.

Why Does My Baby Rub His Head From Side To Side?

A baby rubbing their head from side to side is often a way to self soothe.

Our world can be very bright, loud, and chaotic to newborns or even older babies, so don’t be surprised if your little one seems frustrated after a day at the mall or a neighborhood festival.

Why Does My Baby Rub Her Face And Head?

Always differentiate between scratching and rubbing. Scratching could hurt baby’s little nose and skin, and indicates they have an itch – this could mean an allergic reaction or skin issue. If your young infant is scratching at their face, you may need to talk with a pediatrician to rule out skin issues.

However, gentle head and face rubbing with the hands is completely normal for babies. It could be a way to express that they are tired at night. Although adults might only rub their eyes when tired, babies don’t have such developed motor skills (and such tiny heads!). They may end up rubbing their nose and ears along with their eyes.

In most cases, face-rubbing or burying their head in mom’s chest is completely normal for babies. Only when linked to other symptoms (like crying, poor eating or indicators of an illness) should you be concerned.

The purpose of this article is informative. It’s not a substitute for professional medical advice or medical care. Remember: safety first! Consult your doctor/pediatrician in case of any doubts. The author of this article does not accept any responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from any information or advice contained here.





About Me - Zooey BarnettHello Moms! I am Zooey. I am a wife and a mother of three amazing kids: almost 5-year-old Haley and 2-year-old twins Jesse and Matthew. I am a jogger, cooker and blogger.

If you have a question or a comment, do not hesitate to write to me! 🙂

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