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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.