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Why Is My Baby Rubbing Their Eyes?

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A baby in white pyjamas rubbing their eyes with both hands.

From the first magical glimpse of your baby’s sparkling eyes, it’s a universe of wonder and worry. And one of those little head-scratchers (quite literally) is when your adorable bundle of joy starts rubbing their eyes like they’re prepping for a great cosmic dust-off.

Your baby could be rubbing their eyes for several reasons, including tiredness, allergies, irritated eyes, or infection. Eye rubbing could be harmless—and natural—in many cases. However, you should book an appointment for a children’s eye exam with your child’s eye doctor if you notice persistent rubbing, as it could eventually damage the developing eyes.

The Normalcy of Eye Rubbing in Babies

Babies are like little anthropologists exploring their world through rapidly developing senses and motor skills. Eye rubbing is part of this natural investigative process.

Their eyes are working overtime as they adjust to life outside the snug security of the womb. Constantly adapting to light, tracking movement, and forging new connections in the visual cortex, it is a marvel their eyes aren’t constantly sore! But fret not—your little one isn’t alone in this ritual—it’s an almost universal comfort measure as they tire and get ready for that next adorable napping session.

Potential Causes of Eye Rubbing

There are a few reasons your baby could be rubbing their eyes—some natural and harmless, others could require an eye doctor’s advice and treatment to prevent further complications or damage.


Your baby is quite literally learning to see as it develops. Like any new skill, this one takes practice and patience. With all that brain development and growth happening, sleep is essential for them. Eye rubbing can simply signal that it is time to dim the lights and cue the lullabies.


A baby’s eyes are as susceptible to allergens as anyone else. Common allergens include dust mites, pet dander, and even some food particles that find their way into the eyes. Allergies can trigger eye rubbing as a response to the irritation they cause, and the struggle with itchy cribside eyes is real for many tots.

Eye Infection

Bacterial conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye, often has apparent symptoms like red eyes, crusties, and oozing around the eyes. But these aren’t always the initial symptoms. Sometimes, itching can be an early sign before there’s a visible problem.

Your baby rubbing their eyes could be an indication an infection is brewing. This could be especially true if they’ve been sick with another virus that can turn into conjunctivitis or have recently been exposed to pink eye. If this is the case, it may be prudent to book an appointment with their eye doctor.

A tired baby falling asleep in their high chair.

Is Rubbing Your Eyes Bad?

In the context of a baby’s developing eyes, repetitive rubbing could potentially be harmful. Many tiny parts in a baby’s eyes are adjusting, and any force in this wriggling and rubbing might not be kind to these structures. It’s like constantly hitting the reset button on your vision—not ideal, especially if the “reset” here is particularly vigorous.

When to Be Concerned

A little eye rubbing is not usually a cause for concern; it is part of the parenting package. But suppose your little one seems uncomfortable, or the eye rubbing seems more intense than usual or wrapped up in other symptoms like redness or discharge. In that case, it’s time to stop wondering and consult a pediatrician or your child’s eye doctor. 

Tips for Reducing Eye Rubbing

It is always best to address the root cause under the eye doctor’s care, but in the meantime, soothing your baby’s eyes can help decrease the need for rubbing.

Keep a tidy home to minimize potential irritants, and regularly dim the lights to make sure your baby’s vision isn’t overtaxed. As hard as it is in the early months when sleep (and hence eye-rubbing) schedules are still a little chaotic, a comforting bedtime routine can work wonders.

Talk to the Optometrist About Your Concerns

Parenting is a series of interconnected mysteries punctuated by moments of tremendous clarity, and a baby’s eye rubbing is just one of those not-so-little mysteries that remind us of the great adventure of nurturing a child. Keep your eyes—and your baby’s—on the health horizon with attentive observations and loving care.

Remember, when in doubt, opt for the neonatal win-win: more sleep. It soothes the eyes, the soul, and those inevitable worries accompanying parenthood. Remember to trust your instincts and the wisdom of your community.

Call our team at Prairie Vision today if your little one seems to be experiencing uncomfortable symptoms that lead to excessive eye rubbing. One of our optometrists can examine their eyes to determine whether something is going on below the surface.

Written by Dr. Tanya Jones-Greenwood

Dr. Tanya Jones-Greenwood grew up on her family farm south of Czar and has been a patient with Prairie Vision since she was a child. After receiving her Bachelor of Science Degree from the University of Alberta in 2006 and her Optometry Doctorate from Indiana University in 2010, she returned home.

“I love our local communities and the small-town atmosphere; I couldn’t think of a better place to work and start a family.”

In 2012 she began partial ownership of the office, and in 2014 she became sole owner.

“This is where I grew up. I love caring for the people in my community and want to see us bring big-city technology and skills to our office yet keep the warm and friendly atmosphere.”

Dr. Jones-Greenwood has a special interest in working with children and within the area of vision therapy. She has attended many additional courses listed below. She is a member of the Canadian Optometrists in Vision Therapy and Rehabilitation, the College of Optometrists in Vision Development and the Optometric Extension Program Foundation.

Outside of the office, she enjoys raising her 4 children with her husband and catching up with family and friends. Dr. Jones-Greenwood’s favourite eyewear line is Paradox and Etnia Barcelona.

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