Experts agree that sometimes babies shaking their heads might be harmless, but other times it may be concerning. Some babies will shake their heads as a way of discovering their body parts. Shaking their heads from side to side can be soothing and harmless for other kids. Head shaking back and forth could also be a sign of communication; however, babies will shake their heads if they’re hurting. If it’s pain-related, one common reason is that they have an ear infection or are congested and uncomfortable. More serious reasons that can be concerning have to do with developmental delays or neurological disorders. Seizure disorders can sometimes also manifest as rhythmic head shaking.
Babies have superpowers. When you think you’ve got them figured out, they switch things on you, catching you off guard. How can a creature so little be so confusing?
If your baby has been shaking their head from side to side while sleeping, nursing, or playing, you may wonder when head shaking is part of normal child development and when it may indicate a more significant problem.
It may be a normal developmental milestone relating to reflexes and motor skills.
However, some types of head shaking may signal a problem.
Reasons why your baby is shaking their head from side to side
Although it can be scary when you see your baby start to shake their head, they usually do it for one of the following reasons.
Developmental reasons why a baby might shake their head include:
Babies master new skills by practicing them. Increasing head control is a significant achievement for infants with little control over their surroundings.
A baby who has recently learned how to control its head may turn from side to side and experiment with moving into different positions.
2. Listening to sounds
A baby will commonly move their head towards interesting and familiar sounds such as loud crashes or their parent’s voices.
A baby may move their head back and forth, trying to follow the sounds if there are several competing voices in a room. In a quiet room, the head movements may stop.
Babies can understand words well before they can talk. And they can start to understand their parents or caregivers around six months.
A baby may shake their head to communicate with them. By one year, many babies shake their heads to signal frustration or to mean “no.”
Some babies find it soothing to shake their heads from side to side. They may do this when they’re trying to fall asleep or when they’re anxious or overstimulated.
It is harmless and can help a baby to relax in new situations.
Parents should monitor head shaking that accompanies other signs and symptoms, such as crying.
Other things to watch out for include:
1. Pain or ear infection
Some babies will shake their heads if they’re in pain.
Sudden head shaking may indicate an ear infection, especially if they grab their ear accompanied by fever. Doctors will prescribe antibiotics to treat it.
People who have epilepsy, including babies, have myoclonic jerks. These are short seizures that cause sudden muscle contractions.
These seizures may cause babies to turn their heads from side to side. They are very short, and you may not initially recognize them as seizures.
3. Autism and other developmental delays
Some autistic babies move their bodies to stimulate or soothe themselves. They may nod or shake their heads, usually in rhythmic motions.
An infant may be autistic if they do not make eye contact with or respond to their parents or caregivers, gain and lose skills, or do not meet developmental milestones.
4. Neurological disorders
Head shaking may signal a neurological problem, such as a condition called Rhombencephalosynapsis, which causes a difference in the formation of the brain’s cerebellum.
Babies with neurological disorders may have trouble with speech, movement, and other age-typical behaviors.
5. Shudder attacks
These attacks, which seem to occur spontaneously, rarely occur in babies. A baby’s body may shake or shiver, and the movements may extend to the head.
It is unknown what causes the shader attacks, but they are harmless.
How to stop head shaking
If the constant head shaking makes your baby extremely busy or disoriented, leading to falls and spills, you may want to stop it.
You also don’t want them hitting their heads on the side of the crib, a table corner, or a wall.
Follow these simple steps to help stop your baby from shaking their head:
- Attention – Do not react when your baby shakes their head. If your baby is shaking their head to get attention, any reaction will fuel them. Keep that cell phone down, and don’t feel them.
- Timing – Monitor the time when your baby shakes their head. If they’re doing it for self-soothing, you can learn more about other methods to help baby sleep. The underlying reasons should be addressed if the shaking occurs during nursing or before bedtime.
- Environment – Strive to create a calm environment for your baby if the head shakes from agitation and stress. Get them to a quiet place and gently rock them. Gently place your hand on the back of their head and gently cradle it in an attempt to still it.
- Massage – Grab some baby massage oil or baby lotion and massage the baby to help relax the head and neck muscles.
- Talk to your pediatrician – Inform your pediatrician if the head shaking is severe or you notice other worrying signs such as delayed milestones. The reassurance that everything is okay will help both of you.
Why does my baby jerk her head back and forth?
Occasional back-and-forth movements can be expected, especially when your baby is falling asleep.
However, persistent back-and-forth head bobbing can signify neurological disorders such as bobblehead doll syndrome due to cysts in the brain. This cyst growth can be treated by surgery.
Can teething cause babies to shake their heads?
Some babies may shake their heads during teething.
They may do it as a self-soothing behavior to cope with teething pain. It is a normal behavior in developmentally healthy babies.
Babies are funny and often do things that seem confusing to parents. When it comes to shaking their head, it’s probably expected, but you should trust your gut and get medical advice if you feel anything is wrong.
A baby shaking her head when awake and happy is a typical sign of motor skill development. They may use this action to interact.
However, if you notice them shaking during their sleep or together with other concerning symptoms, do not overlook it.
So stay mindful of your baby’s movements and behavior, and do not hesitate to consult your pediatrician for prompt diagnosis and treatment.
You’re an outstanding mom for making sure your questions get answered.