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During episodes of fussiness, my 6-week-old daughter has started grinding her face into my chest or shoulder. She shakes vigorously from side to side like she's trying to burrow out the other side. When this started with my wife's chest, we assumed it was a hunger cue. However, after watching it for a week or two we haven't found any correlation between the grinding behavior and the need to eat or suck. She will facegrind against a shoulder, chest, arm... it doesn't seem to matter (though she always looks quite determined).

Has anyone else here experienced this sort of behavior with an infant? As with most baby issues that come up, my question is what the hell is she trying to tell us?

It's worth noting that she will also swing or bang her head during fussy episodes. Disconcerting though that is, I'm told this is a strange but not uncommon attempt at soothing. Is facegrinding possibly in the same category?

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+1 for " As with most baby issues that come up, my question is what the hell is she trying to tell us?" – deworde Jan 15 '13 at 20:34
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With the babies I've known, its either a sign they are hungry or they are wiping snot from their faces (older) I'm looking forward to seeing if there is someone who has an answer for you. Good luck and Welcome to the site! – balanced mama Jan 16 '13 at 1:34
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@balancedmama - +1 on the wiping snot, a parent is definitely a baby's first tissue. – justkt Jan 17 '13 at 13:22
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My baby is 4mo and just started doing this. She does it when she is tired. But being younger probably looking for a nipple. I miss my baby being litle :( enjoy it while she is it doesn't last long. – Tony Jan 17 '13 at 15:14
    
My baby did this as a newborn. She would happily fall asleep on the chest/shoulder but would only last 10 min before waking herself by vigorous rubbing. Nursing didn't appear to be what she was looking for, so I assumed that she was overtired or uncomfortable. She's now 4 months old and is much more settled on the chest/shoulder, she can now happily doze there for 20 - 30 min. She is also much happier in a sling carrier. – Fiona May 19 at 8:23

10 Answers 10

up vote 30 down vote accepted

Banging heads, grinding faces and side-diving (what I think you mean by "swinging") are all common forms of "rooting" behavior - that is, she is instinctively trying to find a breast to nurse from.

This is typical for symptoms of hunger, but also general discomfort (nursing feels nice, and babies know it). I'd try feeding her when she exhibits any of these behaviors.

If that doesn't help, she's probably just uncomfortable and doesn't know any way to self-soothe aside from eating. That's her only instinctive mechanism for finding comfort. Try to find other ways to comfort her if feeding doesn't help. Try putting your finger in her mouth, or a pacifier. If that doesn't work try bouncing her to sleep, and other comfort techniques.

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She does do some side-diving when she's hungry for sure. When I said swinging, I meant more of a big windup en route to headbutting my collarbone or jaw. Finger in the mouth definitely helps, but we're working on the pacifier as a more sustainable comfort mechanism. Thanks. – ajk Jan 15 '13 at 21:58
    
That sort of swinging, then, is just part of banging her head, not something separate. – Charles Jan 16 '13 at 17:36
    
My girl does this, but not her twin brother... glad to find this is relatively common. – Rich Homolka May 17 '15 at 18:05

Beyond rooting, as mentioned in this answer, babies also rock their heads as a self-soothing method as you mentioned. With a young baby who is falling asleep is on his or her back you'll see this as a tossing from side to side. If a baby is on his or her stomach trying to sleep it will appear to be a burrowing - when I would let my child nap on my chest she would burrow her head into my chest while falling asleep. It had nothing to do with hunger, it was just soothing. Back when stomach sleeping was the norm I believe this behavior was called "nestling in." So yes, if you are positive that this is not part of the rooting reflex, then it is probably an attempt at self-soothing.

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Good point. Initially I thought she was too frantic to be nestling, but what you're saying makes sense. She may just not be getting comfy quick enough. – ajk Jan 15 '13 at 22:01
    
Ah! I remember this now. Yup. Mine did this too. – balanced mama Jan 17 '13 at 19:02

6-weeks is young enough that your daughter really doesn't have conscious control of many of her muscles. Though her arms and legs move, she doesn't consciously "order" them to do so, likewise with her neck.

Such flailing is often commonly just attributed to being upset rather than any specific ailment. The brain says "I am upset about something, though I don't know what it is nor how to fix it" so you get cries and flailing.

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Thanks for the insight. I guess as a new parent you just have to get used to debugging without a symbol table. – ajk Jan 15 '13 at 21:54
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@ajk +1 for the geek joke – Valkyrie Jan 16 '13 at 13:03

Actually, my LO does this burrowing frantically and refuses to nurse. She has to have her face buried and me standing and walking around to soothe her alot. I was told they do this for reflux. (Even silent reflux) which also makes sense because she was recently diagnosed and is on Zantac. Rooting is completely different than what you're describing. If you find that the baby won't nurse during the episodes, check into reflux. There is a lot of info on other sites/forums with parents describing the same issue with Reflux not hunger as the cause.

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Hi, and welcome to the site! You have a good answer going here. It would be a bit better if you included a few links to the other sites that you mention, particularly if they are medical or scientific sites. – Joe Jan 14 '15 at 16:11
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Interesting. This wasn't the case for my first, but I'll definitely keep it in mind for #2. – ajk Jan 15 '15 at 15:27

My little boy does this and has silent reflux. It's a significant symptom of this. The head swinging and the burrowing tends to get worse if he needs to burp too... He will literally burrow then swing his head around and then headbutt my shoulder until he burps and then settles until the next one is ready to come up. With silent reflux they find it difficult to bring up wind so this is why they do it I believe.

I'm not an expert just going by the experience of 2 children both with reflux. In fact my youngest is on my shoulder now doing the exact same thing as you described trying desperately to get his wind up.

Hope this helps you a bit. There may be a whole lot of other symptoms too which could relate to her.

Failing that it's a possibility could just be trapped wind and nothing else.

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Welcome to Parenting.SE, and thanks for the tip -- nobody else had suggested reflux yet! Nice answer. – Erica Jul 15 '15 at 17:38

My little one does the exact same thing and noticed that it is every time he feels sleepy. I guess he doesn't understand the sleepy feeling that's why he tries to comfort himself that way. I just rock him slowly to sleep while we struggle a bit.

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The swinging the head around thing is what brought me here. My 11 week old has been able to hold his head up for a while but gets his head rocking and rolling if I place him stomach to chest up higher. Maybe some form of strengthening ? The burrowing into my shoulder happens after I feed him and he's trying to burp and is angry about it.

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Welcome to the site, and good luck figuring your new baby out :). Your baby's burrowing does sound like the trapped wind @amy mentioned. As for the rocking and rolling head, you may be right with the strengthening. A lot of times at that age I feel like we as parents want to assign more motivation to their actions than they actually have. My second child did the kind of recreational head-swinging you're talking about, and I told myself he was just really curious. He may have just been excited to realize he had a neck :). – ajk Oct 15 '15 at 17:56

My little daughter also buries her face either in the pillow or my chest and rubs vigorously even when asleep, to the point of waking herself up. Swaddling helps but restricting her also seems to wake her up as she tries to fight to free her hands.

Paediatrics is part of my course and I picked up that she had acid reflux when she was about 2 months old. Symptoms being: spitting up, pulling her face when burping, crying after a burp and not wanting to eat as much.
After some research, I found a correlation between the silent reflux and face rubbing. I think any parent would pick up on face rubbing when tired and vigorous face rubbing. I tried all the methods of soothing her e.g. holding upright for 30mins, making sure she burps even if it takes an hour, feeding her in an upright position, giving the pacifier right after feeding and also I got these natural drops called Iberogast from my paediatrician. I give her these drops just before a feed. All of this seemed to work. She's a smiling little 3 month old now.

She also has atopic eczema, so I make sure I put on her cream from her Paed once a day. I never changed detergent etc as this cream helped her.

Also don't forget about over stimulating baby. Reflux / fussy babies get over stimulated quickly. Monitor the times she's awake and look for signs of tiredness / over stimulation. (Random hiccups not related to feeding, fussing, yawning, not willing to interact or not interested in toys).

Soothing, in my opinion, doesn't last very long and they should eventually settle down without waking themselves up again to sooth. So just rule out all possible causes you suspect (in my case: reflux,thrush,eczema) and go with your instinct. Good luck to all!

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Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

    
Hi, Rochelle, and welcome to the site! Thanks for sharing your experience. When stating a medical claim, though ("After some research, I found a correlation between the silent reflux and face rubbing."), a source is very much appreciated. If you don't reference it, a post notice might be attached to the answer. Thanks, and again, welcome. :) – anongoodnurse Dec 20 '15 at 23:47

My 3 month old has been doing this since he was a couple of weeks old. If he's in a cradle hold when I'm sitting up or if we're side-lying during or after a feed, whether he's awake or asleep, whether he's feeding or not, he turns his face down toward the bed and kinda digs in, will often make a noise of frustration and then turn his face back up and then back down, very quickly and over and over until I settle him with some patting or caressing or he wakes up, usually crying. He's usually still tired when he wakes up, too. Initially, I thought it was his reflux and that he was getting ready to vomit or burp (because sometimes he would do one of those and settle himself again) but he doesn't do it in other positions when he's got wind. He does, however, do a similar nuzzling motion into my chest which is exactly the same except upright and his face turns 180 degrees and he does that when he's trying to soothe himself to sleep.

Given the experiences shared by some of the other parents here, I think for my baby he does it when he's trying to get to sleep or when he's in a shallow sleep and feels himself waking because of wind and is trying prevent himself from waking.

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My baby had it pretty bad for months and would rub her face raw. I did a lot like specific lotions, zipper swaddles but a big factor was helping the skin- that didn't seem to be too bad just looking at

It took some trial and error to figure out what my baby was allergic to and to realize that teething was also a factor. I switched to dye and scent free products as a first step and removed products that were plant based. Part of it for my kid was figuring out what was causing her to rub her face and it seemed to be that after being exposed to some things that bugged her face she got into a bad cycle of rubbing her face and making it worse. I highly recommend swaddling with a swaddle that has a zipper so baby can't escape and get at their faces. Coconut oil has been a miracle for my baby.

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You have some interesting points - but unfortunately not here. Could you please give the gist of your blog post right here in the answer, please? Welcome to Parenting! – Stephie Jan 16 at 15:25
    
Gretknee - I have edited your follow up into your post. Please do it that way rather than adding new posts. This site works differently to online discussion forums you may have used - we don't do 'threads', just question and answer. See How to Answer for guidance. Thanks – Rory Alsop Jan 30 at 10:17

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