What To Know If Ear Pulling Is Your Baby's New Favorite Pastime

by Team Scary Mommy
Originally Published: 
white baby looking concerned in the bath while holding ear
Vitolda Klein/Unsplash

If you’ve been around a baby (including your own), you’ve probably noticed that their little hands are always busy. Whether they’re in their mouths, used to grasp a stuffed animal (or your understanding family pet), formed into tiny fists of rage when crying, or rubbing some parts of their face, those hands are always doing something. But what if a baby is constantly ear pulling? Are they just realizing that they have ears and taking inventory of what’s up there? Are they working on perfecting their Carol Burnett impression? Could it be the sign that something’s not quite right, like an ear infection? You might start to wonder if your baby is teething. If you don’t get some answers, you might begin pulling too — pulling your hair out, that is.

No need for that, Mama. Here’s a look at some of the reasons why a baby might be grabbing, scratching, or rubbing their ear.

Why does my baby keep pulling her ear?

Whether your baby is tugging, grabbing, scratching, or rubbing their ear, you probably have some questions — the first being why they’re doing this. For starters, ear pulling is entirely normal in babies between four and 12 months old, according to Seattle Children’s Hospital. It’s also common for younger children under the age of three to rub their ears. If a baby, toddler, or young child rubs, scratches, or pulls their ear but doesn’t have a fever or show other signs indicating that they’re not feeling well, the ear tugging is harmless.

Some of the possible causes of this type of ear pulling in babies include (per Healthline and Seattle Children’s Hospital):

  • Discovering their ears. It takes babies a while to figure out what they’re working with on their body — including their ears. By the time they’re about a year old, babies typically lose interest in their ears and move along to something else.
  • Habit. Once a baby discovers their ears and gets used to pulling, rubbing, or tugging at them, they may simply continue the habit.
  • Self-soothing. Along with sucking their thumb or using a pacifier, a baby may rub or pull their ear as a method of self-soothing. If this is something they tend to do mostly before naps or bedtime, it’s a good sign that it helps them relax.
  • Earwax. Though this is more common — and the leading cause of ear pulling — in older children, a baby could also tug or pull on their ear because of earwax buildup.
  • Itchy skin. This one is pretty logical: The skin in or around a baby’s ear itches, so they scratch or pull it. Common causes of itchy skin are skin dryness, a reaction to soap, temperature changes, bathing too frequently, or being exposed to certain fabric types.

If a baby constantly pulls on or rubs their ear and also has a fever or shows other signs of being in pain or feeling sick, it could be caused by:

  • Ear infection. This usually comes with additional symptoms, like fussiness, no appetite, difficulty sleeping, crying, irritability, vomiting, or other cold or flu-like symptoms.
  • Teething. Because a baby’s nerves around their teeth and mouth go back to their ears, it can be difficult to tell the difference between when they’re teething and when they have an ear infection.

What should I do if my baby keeps pulling her ear?

If you suspect a baby is in pain at all — or that they might have an ear infection or are starting to teethe — it’s best to check in with your pediatrician. But if that doesn’t appear to be the case, you’re going to have to play mom detective and figure out the root cause.

For instance, if it looks like the baby’s ear could be itchy, check for dry or irritated skin. And if it seems like it’s more of a self-soothing technique or something they’ve simply gotten in the habit of doing, could you always give them something else, like a toy, to hold onto instead of their ear.

Weird Things Babies Do

Infants are funny little creatures and if you think ear pulling is odd, check out these other odd activities babies do.

  • Startle reflex. Sometimes (out of nowhere) babies throw their arms and legs out like they’re falling.
  • Funny breathing. It’s important to pay attention to your baby’s breathing patterns, but inconsistent breathing patterns are sometimes normal in a newborn. It’s called periodic breathing.
  • Sleeping with their eyes open. Adults do this too, but it can be a bit startling when you see your baby do it. If you find your infant with their eyes half-open, don’t sweat it, Mama.
  • They touch their privates during changing time. At around six to seven months, babies are touching everything, and they are just as curious about their privates as they are about everything else.
  • If baby is younger than four weeks, you probably don’t see many tears. Of course, the baby has been crying, but it’s completely normal not to see any waterworks. During those first few weeks of life, they only have enough tears to keep their eye hydrated.

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