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Why Do Babies and Toddlers Pull and Eat Hair?

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Babies and toddlers do quite a few odd things as they discover the world.

One that I have seen frequently through raising children and working at daycare is both pulling hair and eating hair. Some children only pull hair. Others pull it out and eat it. These can be caused by a variety of things. 

Why Is My Baby Or Toddler Pulling Hair?

The hair-pulling phase seems to hit some children a bit harder than others. They pull their hair. They pull your hair.

Sometimes at daycare, they pull the other kid’s hair. This is more than just something else that babies do though.  There are several things that can cause this. 

They Think Your Reaction Is Funny

Children, including babies, like to test things. They want to know what will happen. This helps them learn cause and effect as well as what limits they have.

If your child gets a certain reaction from you when they pull their hair, they’re more likely to do it again. When a little one thinks something is funny, they’ll keep doing it. 

Frustration

Children don’t have the coping skills that we as adults do. Instead, they usually result in behaviors like hair pulling or throwing things to release their frustration. If your toddler is pulling hair because they are frustrated, try calming them. 

Babies Pull Hair To Self Soothe

Sometimes, children find their own ways to self-soothe. In this situation, pulling hair is just like another baby that may suck their thumb.

Children that pull their hair when they are soothing themselves will stop once the problem is solved. If they are hungry, offer them a snack. Babies that are tired can lay down for a nap early. 

Children Pull Hair Out Of Curiosity

Little ones learn about things by pulling, pushing, tasting, etc. If your baby suddenly starts pulling hair, they might want to see what happens.

Depending on the reaction they get, they might continue the behavior. Some babies think it’s amusing to see different reactions from different people.

Make sure that you do not appear shocked, etc. when your little one pulls your hair. Instead, gently move their hand away from your hair and distract them with something else. 

Baby Trich

Trichotillomania, which is often referred to as TTM, is a condition that causes a child to pull out their hair. Typically, children will pull out their hair and leave bald patches.

They might pull out the hair on their head, but they can also pull hair out of their eyebrows or their eyelashes. This condition is not common in younger children, but it does happen.

When babies develop this disorder, it’s called Baby Trich. When this happens in babies and toddlers, it’s common for them to outgrow it. If you’re concerned that your little one has Baby Trich, you can read more about how to help them in this article

Why Is My Baby Or Toddler Eating Hair?

Eating hair is another behavior that is surprisingly common in babies and toddlers. Instead of simply pulling hair, they pull it out and eat it.

Children with long hair might chew on their hair if it will reach their mouth. There are a few different things that can cause this as well. 

Children Eat Hair Because Of Curiosity

Children, especially babies, love to explore the world around them. They do this by seeing, touching, and tasting.

That’s correct. Your little one might simply want to know what the hair tastes like. Toddlers might revisit this as a way of exploring things, too. 

Pica 

Pica is a condition that results in someone, including children, eating things that are not food. For example, hair or chalk. To be diagnosed with Pica, a child usually must eat more than one non-food item for at least a month.

Pediatricians take Pica very seriously. If you have noticed this behavior in your little one, it’s important to contact them for an evaluation. 

When Pica is left untreated, it can lead to children eating dangerous objects, such as paint. Adults that still have Pica typically have the condition so severe that it is considered self-harm. 

What Causes Pica

There are various underlying reasons for a child to develop Pica. The most common reasons that a baby or toddler will have Pica include: 

  • Child neglect
  • Malnutrition
  • A vitamin deficiency (Pica is very common when someone has an iron deficiency)
  • Autism
  • Developmental disabilities
  • Lack of supervision
  • Schizophrenia

Pica can show up at any time and can be due to any of the above reasons. There may be more things that cause this that your doctor can point out as well. If you notice symptoms of this disorder, it’s important to contact your pediatrician. 

Treatment For Pica

The type of treatment used for Pica varies depending on the cause. For example, a child that has a mental health disorder, such as Schizophrenia, will more than likely stop showing symptoms of Pica when the Schizophrenia is treated.

Because of this, treatment often involves treating the disorder or situation that is causing Pica. 

In addition to treating underlying disorders or situations, treatment often involves removing the item that children are eating and creating a safer environment.

For example, if a child keeps attempting to consume cleaners that are toxic, parents are often encouraged to lock them inside of a cabinet so the child cannot get to them. Wearing a hat can help prevent a child from eating hair, too. 

Some Children Chew Hair Out Of Habit

Children may start doing this out of curiosity. Then, it can turn into a habit. They say that it takes approximately thirty days to break a habit.

This one can be an exceptionally hard habit to break because you can’t exactly shave all of their hair. Even if you do, the habit will resume once the hair grows back. 

Instead, you’ll need to help your little one break the habit while they still have hair. Removing the temptation by pulling back long hair or putting a hat on children can help.

Putting mittens on younger children so that they can not grab their hair can also help them break the habit. 

Typically, one habit is replaced by another. This helps break the habit and keeps a person from repeating the previous behavior.

Try giving your little one something that has a different texture for them to rub instead, like a plushie. Babies will enjoy a teething ring or something they can chew on. 

To Hide The Evidence Of Them Pulling Out Hair

When a child has a disorder that results in them pulling out their hair, they’ll try to hide the evidence if there are negative consequences.

If other efforts, like shoving it under the couch, have failed, they might start eating hair so you don’t catch on to them pulling out their hair. 

If you think this has resulted in them eating their hair, try to avoid those negative consequences. Studies have revealed that positive consequences tend to work out better for children. 

Working on behavioral changes does tend to take longer. It also requires more patience. However, when you opt for this approach you produce long-lasting results. 

Rapunzel Syndrome Can Happen If This Is Left Untreated

This may sound like a beautiful thing, but there is not always a fairy tale ending for children that develop Rapunzel Syndrome. When children or adults develop this disorder, it is due to them eating hair.

The end result is that this hair may form a hairball in the stomach. It’s impossible for the body to digest this, so it doesn’t continue to pass through the intestines and out of the colon like other things that are eaten.

Instead, it grows larger and larger. If left untreated and undiagnosed, it can be fatal. 

In Conclusion

Most children pull hair, and some of them eat it. This is considered normal behavior. However, it could stretch what is considered beyond normal behavior if you notice that the behavior persists or does not improve.

If you’re concerned or fear that your little one has an underlying issue that is causing this behavior, such as autism, contact your pediatrician. 

Medical Disclaimer. All content and media on the MomInformed Website is created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice.

My name is Amber Dixon. I am a mother to three wonderful children, and recently welcomed a beautiful grandson into the world as well as into my home. I've learned a great deal about raising children through my own experiences as a mother, but also from several other places. While working at a daycare full time, I learned about childhood development, teaching children, and more. Through earning degrees in Social Work, I was educated about human development, including a great deal about children and childhood development. My education and experience combined have taught me a lot about children of every stage and age, and I hope that I can help you on your journey to becoming the best parent that you can be!