Why Do Babies Rub Their Eyes

Babies Rub Eyes

Newborn babies don’t have many ways of letting parents know what they need. Over time, many parents begin to distinguish subtle differences between cries, but it can be frustrating not to know what’s going on at first. Looking for body language cues can help. You can learn a lot when you notice why your baby’s rubbing his eyes.


Let’s start with an obvious one: Most babies rub their eyes when they’re sleepy. In fact, looking for this cue can lead to longer naps. By the time babies are fussing or crying, they may be overtired, and harder to settle down. Fifteen or twenty minutes before your baby’s usual nap time, start keeping an extra eye out. As soon as you see a little eye rub, whisk the baby to the crib. Your timing may be ideal for a long, restful nap.

Itchiness or Irritation

A stray eyelash or a clogged tear duct can feel itchy or uncomfortable. If your baby’s not tired, check whether a foreign body may be causing some trouble.

An eyelash or speck of dust is simple to wipe away. Clogged tear ducts are a common recurring issue for many new babies, and a common source or worry for new parents. Your pediatrician will most likely reassure you that clogged ducts tend to resolve naturally over time. You can relieve discomfort by gently wiping your baby’s eye with a soft, damp washcloth. Another option is to use a clean finger to gently massage the area under your baby’s eye toward the duct, which can help clear out the clog. Some parents swear by a drop of breast milk applied to their baby’s eye, to provide additional antibodies. Check with your pediatrician, but many doctors have no problem with parents using breast milk as impromptu eye ointment, as long as your hands and nipple area are clean.


Clogged tear ducts may not need any treatment, but eye infections are worth a call to the pediatrician. If your baby’s eyes are bloodshot, producing lots of goopy discharge, or have a tender bump that looks like a pimple, you may need antibiotics or special cream to treat a bacterial infection.

For Fun

It may be the last thing you expect to hear, but your baby might not be rubbing his eyes due to any problem. He may actually enjoy it!

We take a lot of physical sensations for granted. You don’t need to check a mirror to remember where your ears are. But to a brand-new baby experiencing the world for the first time, her own body is an endless source of exploration and fascination. Rubbing her eyes may feel nice, or may cause interesting flashes of light and color on the inside of her eyelids.

It’s great to let your baby explore his surroundings, as long as you pay attention to safety. Newborn fingernails are notorious for growing quickly, and they can be surprisingly sharp. Babies can’t control their arm movements well yet, so it’s easy for them to accidentally scratch themselves. If your baby constantly wants to touch his or her face and you’re worried about scratching, pick up a few pairs of newborn mittens. There are options made of light fabric, so babies can wear them in warmer months as well.

While eye rubbing can sometime signal an infection to address, in most cases, a cute eye rub means your baby is ready to take a nap soon. Relax, enjoy watching your baby learn to signal her needs, and don’t forget to get a sleepy eye rub photo for the baby book!

Jessica Sillers
Jessica Sillers is a parenting and finance writer whose work has been featured in Pregnancy & Newborn, Headspace, and more. As a new mom herself, she’s passionate about helping other parents find the community and support they need. When she’s not writing, she loves spending time with her family, reading, and hiking.

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