I want to talk about my experience with my daughter's hair pulling journey! I had no idea prior to having my daughter that this actually is a common soothing technique that some babies use, along with hair twirling, thumb/finger sucking, using a paci, head banging, and sucking on a tag or a lovey. My daughter used a combination of hair pulling with thumb sucking. When your baby finds a method to soothe themselves, it can be so beneficial because it's comforting, it helps them to relax, and it helps them to wind down and fall asleep. But my goodness, the hair pulling was quite unsettling to me!! When I did a Google search to learn more about it and to find out how to stop it in the future, I didn’t find much out there.
Thumb Sucking & Hair Pulling
To me, there is nothing cuter than thumb sucking!! My daughter, Lina, started sucking her thumb early on. We soon noticed that when she was sucking her thumb, she really liked to bring her hair towards her mouth and twirl it with her other fingers. That was ok... But that turned into pulling out strands of her hair so that she could twirl it around her finger while sucking her thumb. It was never hair pulling on its own, it always went along with the thumb sucking. This went on from the time she was 10 months old to about 20 months old. For the most part, it just happened when she was trying to put herself to sleep for naps and at bed time. Oddly enough, she went in a pattern; she started with the hair in the front of her head, then moved to the hair on the left side of her head, then finally went to the hair in the back of her head. Those areas were definitely shorter and more thinned out than the rest of her hair. Thankfully she was born with a lot of hair, so we could cover it up a little.
We had no clue what to do to stop it. Everything that I’d read online said to just distract your child and give them something else to play with to keep their hands busy. But when it happens during bedtime, there’s really not much you can do to prevent it! I'd also read that you shouldn't make a big deal out of it, otherwise your child may do it more because they know it's a way to get attention... but that's so hard to do! When she was about 18 months old I tried to introduce a little blankie hoping she would find comfort in that and stop the hair pulling. One day, she magically stopped!! She was still sucking her thumb, but the hair pulling subsided! I could not be any happier! We thought we were in the clear! Until… baby number 2 came along.
Lina had just turned 2 when our second child was born. This is a huge life change for anyone, especially for a two year old who was used to being the only child!! And though Lina was happy to have a brother, it was still stressful on her. So she went back to her old soothing method… hair pulling. We started seeing more hair in the crib and we could see the broken pieces of hair on her head. Seeing it just made me cringe. This time I decided that the only way to officially end the hair pulling was to end the thumb sucking. So this is what we did…
I tried a combination of things. One thing I did was talk to her about how she needed to try to stop sucking her thumb. Anytime I saw her thumb in her mouth I’d take it out and redirect her to something else. Another thing that we tried was a product called the thumb buster. It's basically a glove for your thumb. She let us put it on her and instantly it cut down on the thumb sucking. When she brought her thumb to her mouth she was reminded not to suck her thumb because it was covered. She let us put it on her for 3 days, and the thumb sucking was greatly reduced but was not 100% over.
After that, we found another product that was quite helpful; a nail polish deterrent painted on her thumb nail. Warning… this works because it’s not pleasant tasting! The first time that my daughter put her thumb in her mouth after it was painted on her nail, she gagged for at least a minute. But she quickly learned not to put it in her mouth. It helped to cut back the thumb sucking so much!!! We also used a sticker chart, so that at the end of the day she could put a sticker on it for trying to quit sucking her thumb. Toddlers love this kind of thing! By the end of one week. thumb sucking was pretty much done! The last, and by far, the most helpful thing for both the hair pulling and thumb sucking at night was using these sleeves. These scratch sleeves were designed for kids with eczema who scratch themselves in their sleep. The mitts at the ends are silky feeling so that they can’t tightly grasp anything. These worked beautifully for preventing the thumb sucking and therefore preventing the hair pulling! It cut it out immediately for sleep. She’s been wearing these for about 7 months now, and I’m honestly too scared to let her go to sleep without them!! So for now, we will keep using them.
(This is how much her hair has grown back now, since the 2nd round of hair pulling!)
I hope this has been helpful to someone out there dealing with this. Hair pulling can be quite a difficult and stressful thing to watch your child do to themselves! If your child is going through this, you are not alone!! Reach out to me if you need advice, encouragement, or support!
Your Sleep BFF,