Inside: What is a hair tourniquet and what to do if you find a hair wrapped around your baby’s toes. What happened when we discovered a hair tourniquet on our baby.
The Hidden Danger to Your Baby’s Toes
A few years ago I saw a photo making the rounds on Facebook of a baby’s swollen toes. The mother who shared the original photo said it was caused by a “hair tourniquet,” and that here baby almost lost their toes as a consequence.
She urged other parents to watch out for loose hairs on their babies too.
Part of me wondered if it was one of those sensationalist stories that get passed around – was it even real? Was it just a hoax just to “go viral” on Facebook?
Regardless, I made a point to check my baby daughter’s toes ALL the time. You could say that I was paranoid about it.
Every time I found a hair stuck inside one of her socks, I felt vindicated for my worries.
My inner voice:
See! If I hadn’t checked her socks this could have been a disaster!
That little girl is now four years old, and she escaped her infant years without ever experiencing a hair tourniquet incident.
However, just last night I was giving our youngest daughter (who’s 4 months old) a bath when something caught my eye.
As she happily splashed, I noticed something dark wrapped around the toes on her right foot.
At first I thought it was simply a stray hair that had washed onto her foot. But I couldn’t wipe it away.
That one hair – or maybe a couple hairs – was wound tightly around her swollen toes.
What is Hair Tourniquet Syndrome
The official name for this occurrence is Hair Tourniquet Syndrome. A strand of hair becomes so tightly wrapped around a baby’s toe (or other appendage) that it can cut off blood circulation and even break through the skin.
After posting about our experience on Facebook, I found out that it’s a lot more common that I thought. So many other moms (and dads) chimed in to share their own scary experiences and even tips for what to do.
That’s why I knew I needed to write more about hair tourniquets — so skeptical parents (like I was) will know that it is a real thing and to be on the lookout for it.
There are a couple reasons that a hair tourniquet is dangerous:
- If circulation is blocked for too long and is not able to be restored, babies can lose the affected toe(s).
- When hair breaks the skin, there is a risk of infection.
How to Prevent Hair Tourniquet Syndrome
Since all it takes is one single hair, it is nearly impossible to completely prevent your baby from getting a hair wrapped around their toes or fingers at some point.
Plus, human hair is quite elastic, so it can easily become entangled around tiny baby fingers and toes. Clothing threads can also be the culprit, though this is not quite as common.
The most important thing is to try to minimize the likelihood and to be vigilant about checking for hair tourniquets, so you can catch them before there is any lasting damage.
Here are a few things you can do to reduce the chances of your baby suffering a serious injury from a hair tourniquet:
- Vacuum and mop regularly to pick up loose hairs from the floor.
- Before putting on a baby’s socks, flip them inside out to check for any hairs that may have gotten stuck inside during washing.
- Examine baby’s feet throughout the day — before/after wearing socks, during bath time, before bed.
- Educate siblings and other caregivers so they’ll know to be on the lookout too.
- Don’t just check toes – keep an eye out for hair around fingers or even a baby’s penis too.
What to Do if You Find a Hair Wrapped Around Your Baby’s Toes
When I saw that hair wrapped tightly around my baby’s toes, my first instinct was panic. However, it’s important to stay calm and get to work right away.
First, I called my husband into the bathroom and asked him to help hold our daughter’s leg still so I could work the tangles loose with my fingernails.
Fortunately, after a few tense minutes, I was able to work my daughter’s toes free and remove the hair completely.
I examined her toes to make sure that they all still had circulation and that the hair did not break the skin. I also applied a disinfectant just to be safe.
While her skin was bright red and angry-looking at the time, after a couple hours her toes returned to normal.
Here’s what to do if you notice a hair tourniquet on your baby:
- If there is another adult nearby, ask them to help you. A squirmy baby makes it hard to see what you’re doing, and if they are in any pain, it can make the situation trickier.
- Soak your baby’s foot in water. Hair expands when wet, so this may get you enough wiggle room to get a fingernail or tweezers between the skin and hair.
- Use tweezers or fingernails to try to work the hair free. If you can’t get the hair untangled, try to use tweezers to pull a strand of hair away from the skin, then slide baby scissors in the space carefully to snip the hair.
- If you have a depilatory cream (such as Nair) handy, you can use this to try to dissolve the hair.
- Head to your pediatrician or urgent care clinic immediately if you are unable to remove the hair at home or if the toes (or other appendage) has started to turn blue.
It Happens to the Best of Us
Even though I check my little girl’s toes every day (thank goodness!!) I still felt like a horrible mom that it happened at all.
However, it is very common for hair to wrap around baby toes, so don’t feel guilty if it happens to you and yours. The good news is that if caught early, a hair tourniquet is usually not a big deal.
I don’t want you to come away from this post thinking, “great, one more thing to worry about!”
I simply want to urge other parents to be watchful. Catching a hair tourniquet in time is the difference between a minor ouchie and a major problem.
I was always skeptical that this was a real thing, until it happened to us!