Megan is a writer and mom of two. She enjoys cooking, running, and gardening.
My Baby's Hair Tourniquet Experience
A few months ago, my two daughters and I were visiting my twin sister in San Diego. We had just had a great time at the beach, and I put my younger daughter (18 months old at the time) down for a nap. She was sleeping in a pack-and-play with a sheet at the bottom. Earlier that day, her sister (who has super long hair) had been playing in the pack-and-play with her.
Usually, my daughter will wake up from a nap happy, and I’ll hear her babbling excitedly over the baby monitor. About an hour into this nap, however, I heard screaming instead of happy noises coming from the guest room at my sister’s home. I went to get the baby, picked her up, and tried to calm her down.
After a few minutes of patting her on the back and trying to nurse her, she still didn’t calm down. I decided to give her a bath, which usually does the trick to snap her out of her rare bad moods. I gave her a bath, and although she calmed down for a minute or two, when I took her out of the water she was still screaming and crying. When I laid her down on the bed to put on her diaper, that’s when I noticed it. A hair was wrapped tightly around her middle toe! I immediately realized that that was what was causing her to be so upset. In a panic, I pulled gently on the hair—this just made it worse, and she cried even harder.
Thankfully, my sister and her husband have medical backgrounds, and also had some friends over that had experience with this. After a call to a pediatrician friend of theirs, and a few at-home remedies, my brother-in-law got the hair off of her toe. (The next day I was convinced it was still there because the toe still had a ring around it, and we went to the ER, but they assured me it was off).
Home Remedies for Removing Hair Around Baby’s Toe or Finger
When you find out that the source of a baby’s crying is a hair tourniquet, don’t panic! Whatever you do, don’t pull on the hair once you find it. This is what I did, and what could have been an easily un-wound hair turned into an hours-long group effort.
The following methods can work to remove the hair:
- Use a magnifying glass and tweezers to lift up the hair, and snip it carefully with baby nail scissors.
- Stretch the skin around the tourniquet, and place a piece of clear scotch tape horizontally over the hair. Lift it up carefully, and hopefully the hair will attach itself to the tape. Either slide the hair off, or while it’s lifted up, snip carefully with baby nail scissors.
- Soak the toe in water—this causes hair to relax. Hair constricts when dry, and expands when wet. While still wet, you may be able to grab ahold of the hair with your fingernail and unwind it.
- Use vaseline, olive oil, or coconut oil to lubricate the area, and try to gently slide off the hair.
When to Head to the Doctor
If you are unable to remove the hair at home, head to the doctor. If the offending hair is light-colored, or if you’re not completely sure you removed the hair and baby is still upset, go to the doctor—this isn’t something you want to “wait out” and see how it does overnight. If action isn’t taken quickly, or if you think you got it and you didn’t, it could mean the difference between a baby keeping their toe or not.
If the baby’s toe (or other appendage) is already turning blue, don’t waste precious time trying to remove the hair at home. This is a sign that circulation has already been lost. Go to the ER or doctor right away for the best chance of a good outcome in this situation.
What is a Hair Tourniquet?
The phenomenon of getting a hair wrapped around a toe (or another body part) is called a “hair tourniquet.” It occurs frequently in babies under 1 year old, often during nap time. They may get a hair inside of a footie pajama or sock, wiggle around, and twist the hair tighter and tighter. This can also happen with loose thread from clothing or bedding, but that is less common. Human hair is more elastic, and is more likely to wrap in this way around digits.
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Hair tourniquets are very dangerous if they are left on for too long. They can cut off circulation to the rest of the toe. In some severe cases, a baby’s toe or finger must be amputated because the hair was not detected in time.
Parents or caretakers will likely notice the hair tourniquet early on because it causes extreme discomfort in the baby. They will probably be very upset, and unable to be calmed down by solutions that usually help when they are crying. The problem comes when they don’t think to check the feet, and the baby has clothes on that conceal the problem.
Once you see the toe, it is usually pretty straightforward that something is wrong—you will notice the hair around the toe, or if it has gotten wound tight enough, you’ll see an indentation all the way around the toe. Depending on how long it’s been on, the top of the toe may be turning red or blue, and may be bleeding around the site of the hair.
It is extremely important to remove the hair as soon as possible (See solutions below). Most babies will do just fine as long as the hair is taken off in time, although most will have an indentation at the injury site for a few weeks or months afterwards.
How Common Are Hair Tourniquets?
When in the ER of Rady’s Children’s Hospital in San Diego, the pediatrician who saw us said she sees a few cases of hair tourniquets each year. It is very common—lots of parents, siblings, or caretakers who have long hair are often snuggling and cuddling babies. Also, moms start losing a lot of hair between three and six months postpartum, making up for extra hair thickening that occurred during pregnancy. Since a lot of hair tourniquets are resolved at home, they are probably underreported.
Hairs wrapped around baby’s toe may be harder to detect if the hair is blonde or lighter colored. Darker hair is easier to see against skin, and is usually caught sooner. Also, hair tourniquets can happen to other body parts, like fingers or even genitalia. Toes are most common, however.
Preventing Hair Tourniquets
Preventing hair tourniquets is hard—new moms will be shedding hair and spending lots of time close to baby. The best ways to be proactive against hair tourniquets occurring are:
- Keep your hair pulled back when spending time close to baby
- Wash baby’s clothing and bedding separately from yours
- Turn socks and mittens inside out after washing to make sure no hair is stuck inside
- Do a “toe check” before and after naptime and bedtime
- Check bedding surfaces and blankets for stray hairs before laying baby down to sleep
Hair tourniquets are common, but are rarely serious if caught in time. They are also easily preventable if you are aware of the risk and take steps to avoid it. If you ever do find your baby with a hair wrapped around its toe or finger, don’t panic. Try the at-home remedies first, and head to the doctor if those don’t work. By being well informed, you can avoid any major complications from this common children’s health issue.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
McHobbit on February 16, 2018:
Of course we want to prevent tragedy but there is a fine line between that and going overheard, and washing baby clothes separately is bordering on paranoia and creating unneeded hassle. If you have ONE baby, his or her clothes don't warrant a separate load unless you wait until almost everything is dirty or wash what is really half a load, using the full amount of water of course.
Since this is very poorly recognized even by doctors, the most important thing is that mothers DO know about it and also know what to do. Regularly checking mittens, socks and bedding before use and after washing as well as little digits throughout the day, is of course prudent. In addition, checking their digits should be the first thing you do when they seem to cry inconsolably for no apparent reason. The problem is that often mother's aren't aware and think it's purple crying.
A pediatric nurse told me that you can use Nair to aid you in the removal process. If it doesn't work or you aren't sure you got it, DON'T go to the ER. Especially if you don't have a children's hospital near you. Their wait times will be MUCH longer than a pediatrician's and you can't count on them knowing about hair tourniquet. If you can get into the pediatrician, go to an urgent care.