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Hair Pulling and eating
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Hair Pulling and eating

I have a 24 month old who began pulling out her hair at approximately 15 months old.  She would do it when she got tired at night or bored or aggitated, seemingly to comfort herself. She has also been eating it, though fortunately has not developed a bezoar (sp.?).  Her habit comes and goes and she will pull her hair often for about a week, then stop for a while.  She will always pull it if she is put to bed without being asleep or if she is left in her crib for any amount of time when she wakes up in the morning.  I still rock her to a sound sleep each night to keep her from pulling and eating her hair.  I do find hair in her diaper occassionally, even taking this precaution, and am looking for help in getting her to stop.
I told her doctor about it at her 15th month visit and she suggested sewing mittens to her pajamas so she couldn't pull her hair while groggy, and suggested continuing to rock her to sleep and get her as soon as she made any noise upon waking. I thought it a little cruel to sew mittens on so I did not do it, but followed her other advice.  At her 18 month visit she was still pulling her hair occassionally, but I had not noticed her eating it for a while so her doctor told me to continue what I was doing and we would see how it goes.  She mentioned Trich?  but thought she was too young for that, and that the eating was not consistent with that disorder.  I am worried that she is going to develop a bezoar mostly, and also about why she does it.  She used to pull and run he fingers through my hair while I nursed her between 11 and 14 months, when I stopped nusring her, and this seemed to develop soon after.  If it is known that children can develop a bezoar from eating their hair, what info can you give on why they do eat it?  Other than this she is perfectly happy and her learning curve is high. She is our only child and is exclusively with me or my husband as caregivers. We also have my 37 year old brother who has Downs Syndrome living with us who is never far from her side, and reads to her.  She eats well and has regular bowel movements.  My husband believes it is just something that will pass, but I would like to learn how to prevent her from at least eating her hair so she does not develop a bezoar. Thank-you.
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You are correct in thinking that the behavior is a form of soothing. It is 'designed' to reduce tension. With many self-soothing behaviors, a habit pattern can develop. When there is little problem around the pattern, as with simply twirling hair with the fingers, it serves a useful function with no averse impact. Hair pulling, on the other hand, can result in patches of missing hair and if the hair is ingested can produce a trichobezoar. The key, of course, is to prevent the pulling in the first place. To focus on the eating is a losing proposition.
Your pediatrician offered sensible guidance. The mittens are an effective way of inhibiting the hair pulling - over time the habit pattern ceases. It's also helpful to introduce alternative options for soothing. Having a blanket, a stuffed animal, or some object that can be toyed with in the crib are some possibilities. Technically, this does fall into the category of trichotillomania, which is simply hair pulling, though ususally it represents an impulse control disorder and in this instance it's more an example of a habit pattern which redices tension. I'm not sure it's useful to encourage the patterns of rushing in whenever she fusses or rocking her to sleep. The goal with infants (now toddler) is to be able to fall asleep by herself and to be able to tolerate your absence if she wakes. I'm afraid you are unwittingly contributing to other problems in your efforts to interrupt the hair pulling.
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My situation might give you some comfort.  Listening to your story did me....  My daughter (she is now 11 years old) did exactly what your child is doing.  It was the strangest thing.  My daughter started when she was old enough to be on the floor.  We would find her picking up hair, fuzzies, whatever she could find and put them in her mouth.  Then she progressed to just hair.  She would pull her hair, wrap it around her thumb and suck  it.  Alot of the time she would ingest it.  YUK!  What I did was I had her hair cut so she couldnt get her fingers around it to pull it.  Believe it or not she looked adorable with her short hair.  Especially since she only pulled her hair from the left side and it always looked like a lopsided mess! :)  After cutting her hair we went shopping and bought a doll with longer synthetic hair that she could pull if she wanted.  This actually broke the habit of her pulling her own hair.  I figured it was just a "texture" thing.   I guess I was right.  She is now a very happy adjusted pre-teen (Never thought those three words ((happy adjusted pre-teen)) would ever go together in a sentence!!)  We still have the poor doll.....  she is a mess but it is one of those life memories. I always wondered if my daughter was the only one doing this oddity, now I know it isnt necessarily just her.   Good Luck to you!
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