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Article: Why Does Your Baby Shake Their Head Side to Side?

Why Does Your Baby Shake Their Head Side to Side?

Why Does Your Baby Shake Their Head Side to Side?

Have you ever noticed your baby shaking their head from side to side and wondered what it might mean? It's a common sight that can often spark curiosity and concern among parents. In most cases, this rhythmic head movement is entirely normal and part of your little one's developmental journey. However, understanding why babies engage in this behavior can help alleviate worries and ensure you're attuned to any signs that might require attention. Let's delve into the reasons behind this adorable yet sometimes puzzling act.

Is it normal for baby to shake head side to side? Should You Worry?

When trying to determine if your baby's head shaking is normal or cause for concern, there are a few key things parents should look out for:

Occasional vs frequent: Occasional, non-rhythmic shaking as babies explore is generally nothing to worry about. Frequent or persistent shaking may warrant monitoring.

Forcefulness: Gentle, mild head movements are more likely to be normal. Strong, forceful shaking could indicate an underlying issue.

Isolated behavior: If head shaking is the baby's only unusual behavior, it's probably developmental. Accompanying symptoms raise more concern.

Timing: Shaking as babies reach milestones like improved head/neck control at 4-6 months is typically normal. Shaking at older ages needs more examination.

Resolution: Developmental head shaking often decreases as babies grow. Prolonged or increasing shaking over time should be discussed with your pediatrician.

In general, unless the shaking is frequent, forceful, combined with other symptoms, or doesn't lessen with age/development, it's not necessarily something to worry about on its own. However, parents should always trust their instincts.

If the behavior seems excessive or concerning, consult the pediatrician. They can examine your child fully and determine next steps to provide reassurance or investigate further if needed. When in doubt, it's best to get the all-clear from a medical professional.

Let's now explore the normal and abnormal reasons behind a baby shaking their head, so you can gain a better understanding of your baby's situation.

What are the normal causes of baby shaking head?

Developing motor skills: Around 4-6 months, infants start to gain better control of their neck muscles and whole body movements. Gentle head shaking helps strengthen these muscles as babies learn to hold up their own heads. It's a milestone of physical development.

Visual exploration: By moving their head from side to side, babies are able to see how their vision changes and objects appear to move. This gives them an early understanding of depth perception. It also lets them track moving stimuli, which is important for visual development.

A baby girl crying rubbing her eyes

Self-soothing behavior: For some babies, gentle side-to-side head movement is a self-soothing technique they use when feeling stressed, tired, or overwhelmed. The repetitive motion can be calming for babies in a similar way that rocking or sucking provides comfort. This self-soothing shaking usually isn't forceful or long-lasting.

Calming technique: Many babies find the side-to-side motion to be self-soothing. It could relieve minor discomfort from gas, teething pain, or an upset stomach. The repetitive movement provides soothing proprioceptive input. Some parents even report it calms their babies to sleep.

Startle response: Loud or unexpected sounds may cause babies to involuntarily jerk or briefly shake their heads as a natural startle reflex. This reaction is normal and typically doesn't persist for long.

Breastfeeding/ bottle feeding: When feeding at the breast or bottle, it is normal physiological need for babies to suckle. Some infants may move their head slightly back and forth or from side to side in order to locate and latch on to the nipple. This type of shaking motion is typically very mild in amplitude and done solely for the purpose of feeding rather than as a deliberate behavior.

Teething: As early teeth push through the gums, it can be painful for babies. Gentle head rolling or shaking may temporarily relieve teething symptoms by applying counter-pressure on the gums. It's a self-soothing behavior.

A cute baby crawling bed crying

Exploring sensations: Curious infants enjoy exploring how different body movements feel. Rocking their head from side to side allows them to experience new proprioceptive sensations.

So in summary, occasional head shaking is usually just part of normal infant development, self-regulation, or exploration in most cases.

What are the abnormal causes of baby shaking head?

Ear infection: An ear infection can cause pain and irritation when moving the head. The shaking may be a reaction to this discomfort. Other signs may include fever, tugging at ears, hearing loss.

Autism spectrum disorder: For some infants on the autism spectrum, head shaking could serve as a repetitive self-soothing behavior.

Core features of autism include difficulties with social communication and restricted/repetitive patterns of behavior. Babies may engage in repetitive motions to perceive and exert control over their environment.

The head shaking provides a certain sensory input, which may feel comforting and calming for autistic children.

Additionally, autistic infants may have less ability to modulate sensory input compared to other babies. Through repetition, they can help alleviate sensory oversensitivity.

In other words, the head shaking could reflect an autistic baby's tendency to use physical movements to manage their sensory experiences and make the world easier to process.

Vision problems: Issues like strabismus (crossed eyes) or difficulties focusing could cause excessive head shaking as babies try to compensate. Other eye problems may contribute too.

Neurological conditions: Rare disorders like cerebral palsy, seizures, or signs of developmental delays could be underlying factors. The shaking may indicate problems with muscle tone/control.

Trauma/injury: A head injury from something like a fall could lead to involuntary shaking movements if it impacted the brain or nervous system. Other injury signs would also be present.

Genetic disorders: Certain genetic conditions like Down syndrome are sometimes linked with persistent head shaking behaviors. Other associated signs/symptoms would also occur.

Environmental factors: Rarely, aspects like drugs/alcohol in utero, severe neglect, or shaken baby syndrome could cause neurological issues leading to abnormal movements.

Fever: A spike in body temperature from illness/infection may temporarily increase shaking as the baby's system tries to regulate itself. Fever would also be present.

So in abnormal cases, the shaking is often repetitive/forceful, accompanied by other concerning symptoms, or doesn't resolve as development progresses normally. Seeing a pediatrician is advised.


In conclusion, many times side-to-side head shaking in babies is perfectly normal as they develop important motor skills, vision, and self-soothing techniques. The occasional movement during early milestones should not typically cause parents undue concern on its own. However, if shaking seems excessive, repetitive, or is combined with other abnormal symptoms, it's important to consult your pediatrician. They can fully examine the baby and rule out any potential underlying issues. The information discussed here aimed to help parents understand both normal and abnormal causes of this behavior. With their pediatrician's guidance, parents can determine the most appropriate next steps to support their baby's health and development. While keeping an eye out for warning signs, most baby head shaking falls into the category of typical infant exploration during critical stages of growth.

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Yujia Shi

An expert in sleep sack design, is a valued contributor to Kaiya Baby's blog. With a strong background in baby sleep bags and maternal care, she is highly regarded for her professionalism. Yujia Shi prioritizes baby comfort and safety in her designs, using high-quality materials. Her insightful articles on sleep bags have been featured in reputable publications and have gained a significant readership. Trust Yujia Shi to help you create a comfortable and safe sleep environment for your baby, backed by her proven track record in the industry.

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