There are a few reasons when your baby may shake their head from side to side. Teething, self-soothing trying to sleep, Ear infections, breastfeeding, playing, sensory feedback, or imitation are all normal. However, If the baby shakes their head, loses their balance or their eyes roll back call 911 immediately.
When my firstborn was only a few weeks old he began this little shaking movement with his head. which really started to concern me.
Feeling somewhat frightened and alarmed that my baby was nodding his head damaging his little brain by constantly shaking his head from side to side.
I was so concerned that I spent some time searching for answers online and not being able to find much decided that I needed to speak to my doctor.
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He reassured me that this was quite the norm. however, being my first baby I was incredibly worried.
Now, after having 5 children I can assure you that my doctor was, in fact, correct and I have seen this side-to-side head movement behavior with more than three of my five children.
Baby shaking head from side to side? Here are the reasons why:
01. Learning to control their head can cause a baby to shake their head from side to side
When babies learn to control their heads, they sometimes shake their head both side to side and backward and forwards.
These jerky movements are just your baby learning to control his head.
I remember when my firstborn was learning to lift his head up from my shoulder.
He would have these small movements of shaking his head up and down whilst still managing to get his head up.
I felt as his neck muscles became stronger the shaking became less and less apparent.
02. Fatigue, Sometimes a tired baby shakes head while sleeping.
Another common reason for babies to shake their head from side to side is when they are tired or fatigued.
It is common for babies to shake their head from side to side to enable them to self soothe and fall asleep.
In fact, I have seen one of my children shake their head while sleeping to comfort themselves.
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03. Ear infection
A common sign of an ear infection is a baby shaking their head from side to side.
If you find that the head shaking is accompanied by a fever, cold, cough, fatigue, lethargy or pulling and tugging on the ears it could mean the child has an ear infection.
Other signs of an ear infection when the baby is shaking head could be:
*The baby cries more than normal,
*A baby who otherwise slept well starts night waking,
*The baby loses their appetite and even goes off breast milk
*The most obvious sign is that the child has fluid or puss coming out of the ear
*The baby or toddler feels more irritable than normal
A good thing to keep in mind is that not all infections come with a fever.
With one of my daughters this was always the case the only sign she would give us that she had an ear infection was the fact she would move her hair away from her ear so that she could hear us.
04. Breastfeeding causing a baby to shake his head from side to side
When you first start breastfeeding you may find that you baby bobs its head about to try and latch onto your breast.
The baby is learning not only how to breastfeeding but is developing and strengthening its neck muscles.
This bobbing of the head can also seem like shaking of the head while you are breastfeeding but this is quite normal.
Babies may also feel excited not only at latching on but getting also getting food!
This could also be another reason why your baby is shaking its head from side to side.
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05. Testing his movement skills by nodding his head up and down
Babies are brave and they will try, try and try again until they master a movement.
The process, however, can be frightening for a parent that hasn’t seen it before.
This is what happened when I put my baby on his tummy on the floor for tummy time.
He shook his head backward and forwards until he managed to lift it to 45 degrees.
He then looked distressed and put his head down, but he persisted and kept on going until he got it.
When the muscles strengthened the shaking stopped.
Maybe your baby is sensory seeking and would love being rocked in a glider recliner
06. Playing and getting sensory feedback from shaking his head
My son absolutely loved putting a soft toy in his mouth and shaking his head.
It looked so cute that we would make videos and laugh, he was playing and making us laugh which leads me onto my next point…
07. Baby shaking their head For entertainment purposes
When a child sees he gets a reaction from a parent they sometimes do it for attention.
One thing that I have definitely learned from being a mom of 5 is that children do sometimes like negative attention.
So if a child sees that every time he shakes his head backward and forwards or side to side and his mother comes running from the other side of the room to tell him ‘don’t do that baby.’
He knows next time he wants to be picked up all he has to do is to shake his head and mummy will be putty in his hands.
08. Imitating an adult shaking their head
How many of us over exaggerate our facial expressions and make funny tones with our voices to engage with our babies?
When a baby sees mom or dad saying no with a smile on their face whilst shaking their head and pointing.
It can be one of the first imitation skills that our children learn.
Even if they can’t say no sometimes you may find they shake their head or wiggle their finger at you as that is what they have learned from you!
What a clever baby that they can shake their head no!
09. Baby nodding their head due to teething
Ever had a toothache?
When I recently had an extraction due to my tooth breaking after having my fifth child.
The pain was literally going up to my head, ears and even down to my jaw muscles.
I just had a thought that if this is anything like what babies go through when they are teething it really must feel awful.
Some of the known signs and symptoms of teething include:
* Low-grade fever
* Loss of appetite
* Mucus in the stool
* Sore gums
* Earache and tugging on the ears
* Heavy dribbling
* Unsettled and irritable
* Teething rash
* Red flushed cheeks which are warm to the touch.
* A baby may also shake its head from side to side as a sign of teething. You can try and use a teething necklace, natural teething toys, and breast milk Popsicle.
You can read about some natural teething remedies here.
10. Baby shaking head as one of the first signs of autism
More often then not a baby shaking their head is no cause for concern however, it can be one of the first signs of autism.
If your baby or toddler isn’t meeting milestones then it may be worth speaking to your doctor.
How to try and encourage your baby to stop
01. Ignore the behavior. If you feel the behavior is for attention purposes see how your baby responds by ignoring her.
02. Keep an eye on the frequency, it may only happen when the baby is tired or needs comfort
03. Distract the baby with a toy, sing a song engage with an activity
04. Give the baby a message. This is a great way to distract a baby. Giving your bundle of joy a nice massage will encourage her to stop head shaking with another activity.
When to worry about your baby or toddlers head shaking
If the baby shakes head, loses their balance or their eyes roll back call 911 immediately. This could:
01. Be a head trauma or epilepsy and needs urgent attention.
02. If your baby doesn’t make eye contact with you.
03. If your baby doesn’t respond to your voice, their name, to other noises such as loud toys or the television.
04. If the baby isn’t interacting with you or their siblings.
05. The baby or toddler is failing to reach other development milestones
06. If these head-shaking behaviors continue past the age of 2 and you feel as a parent that they are not related to self-soothing or an ear infection.
07. If there has been evidence of a fall.
08. If you notice an increase of head shaking when the baby is agitated.
09. If you notice that the head shaking has changed to head banging or self-injurious behavior.
10. If you notice the child isn’t moving their eyes in the way they normally would.
11. If your baby has had a regression of skills while the head shaking has increased.
The bottom line on head shaking in baby or toddler
Although head shaking in a baby can seem like a cause of concern it is important as a parent to remain calm and vigilant.
Your mommy and daddy gut instinct will go a long way.
If you feel concerned you need to go and see the doctor.
Even after 5 kids if my mommy gut tells me something isn’t right I go ahead and get it checked out (I’m still learning too).