Why Do Babies Rub Their Eyes? 5 Possible Reasons

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Why Do Babies Rub Their Eyes?

Babies usually rub their eyes when they are tired and sleepy. But dry eyes, an eye infection, or a foreign object such as dust or an eyelash in the eye can also make a baby rub the eyes. Another reason might be that babies explore and try to figure out how the eyes respond to being rubbed.

There’s nothing more adorable than watching babies rub their eyes with those tiny little fists. But is this one of those quaint things babies do or could they be trying to tell you something? Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why babies rub their eyes.

1. Tiredness

The most common reason babies rub their eyes: they’re just sleepy! Much like when you rub and soothe sore muscles, your baby tries to relieve tired muscles around the eyes by rubbing them. Yawning, getting cranky, or crying are other signs that your baby is tired and sleepy.1

It helps to learn the signals that show tiredness in babies. This way, you can put them to sleep before they get overtired and it gets tough for you to settle them down. Try to establish a sleep schedule as early as possible. A familiar soothing routine, such as spending a little time cuddling, rocking, or listening to calming music, can be helpful. This lets your baby know that it’s time to go to sleep.2 3

2. Dry Eyes

Babies may rub their eyes if they feel dry. Rubbing promotes tearing, which in turn moistens dry eyes. The dryness might be because the baby has stayed up for a while now. The protective film of tears starts to dry up when it is exposed to air for a long period.

3. Curiosity

Remember, everything is new to babies. They’re still learning how the body responds and functions. Those patterns and lights that you see when you rub your closed eyes? That can be a fascinating experience to babies who are experimenting and familiarizing themselves with their body.

4. Irritants Like Dust And Eyelashes

Babies might rub their eyes if there’s something in there that’s irritating them. This can be dust, an eyelash, or dried mucus. Remember, even tears and blinking are signs of a foreign object in their eyes. If there’s an irritant in your baby’s eyes, first use a wet washcloth to wipe around the eye and face so that nothing else gets in. Then, try to flush out whatever is in the eyes with some clean warm water. Have someone hold the baby’s face up while you do this.

If you can see something stuck in the corner of the eye, a wet clean cloth or cotton swab can be used to remove it. Do see a doctor if you’re not able to get the foreign particle out or if the symptoms, like blinking and tearing, do not stop after you’ve removed the object.4 5

5. Painful Or Itchy Eyes

Another reason why babies rub their eyes is pain or itching, which can be caused by infection. Symptoms of an infection might also include swollen and reddish eyes, a discharge, or fever. Your baby may also appear distressed and cry if the eyes hurt. It’s best to see a doctor if you suspect that your baby has an eye infection.6

References   [ + ]

1.Warner, Penny. Rock-a-Bye Baby: 200 Ways to Help Baby (and You!) Sleep Better. Chronicle Books, 2010.
2.Good ways to settle babies under six months: a parent’s guide. NSW Government.
3.Bedtime habits for infants and children. National Institutes of Health.
4.Eye – Foreign Body or Object. Seattle Children’s Hospital.
5.Margulis, Jennifer. Why Babies Do That: Baffling Baby Behavior Explained. Willow Creek Press, 2005.
6.Murat, Brian, Stewart, Greg, and John Rea. Do I Need to See the Doctor?: The Home-Treatment Encyclopedia – Written by Medical Doctors – That Lets You Decide. John Wiley & Sons, 2008.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.

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