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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
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
@balancedmama - +1 on the wiping snot, a parent is definitely a baby's first tissue. – justkt Jan 17 '13 at 13:22
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

7 Answers 7

up vote 26 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 at 18:05

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
@ajk +1 for the geek joke – Valkyrie Jan 16 '13 at 13:03

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

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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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 at 16:11
Interesting. This wasn't the case for my first, but I'll definitely keep it in mind for #2. – ajk Jan 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 at 17:38

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 at 17:56

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