In this article, we discuss the potential reasons behind your babies head shaking.
Why do babies shake their head?
Is your baby shaking their head side to side? Although it may sometimes appear alarming, for the most part, it shouldn’t be a cause for concern, babies shake their heads!
During the early stages of a new-born’s life, they are accomplishing huge milestones with every week. This includes experimenting with moving their bodies and how they acknowledge their surrounding environment. So of course, in this case, it is harmless but it’s important to not sweep it under the rug completely.
However, for a small percentage of babies, shaking their head could be a symptom of an underlying condition and we are here to help if you are worried this may be the case. Although, if you are extremely concerned, we advise you contact your GP.
Your baby is growing and learning new things with every day.
In the first 2 months of their life, your child will begin to recognise familiar senses, such as your voice, your face and even your smell. They are biologically “programmed” to recognise you! So, it comes as no surprise that your new born shakes their head in response to these familiarities.
At 4 months, your baby may begin to even lift their head. So, the cause for your concern could
merely be down to your child exploring the ways in which their head moves and feels.
At 6 months, they develop an understanding for the things happening around them and when they reach 1 year old, they can even signal “No”.
For a baby who has little control, these developing head movements can feel very strange for them and cause them to want to experience the new feeling out of curiosity.
Your baby listens!
Have you ever told your baby “No!”? Or used a harsher tone? The chances are you are simply being listened to and therefore being imitated! It may come as a surprise to some, but that typical head shaking in babies is the first signs of communicating how they feel to you. Therefore, next time your baby shakes its head, consider what they might be trying to communicate to you.
When your baby becomes overstimulated, shaking their head side to side could be their way of getting themselves to calm down. Or, if the baby is overtired or feeling anxious, the head movements will most likely be comforting to them. Don’t worry, this is completely harmless and simply a positive sign that your little one is able to find some relief in themselves.
We have all showered our babies with praise for the littlest things they do, whether it be making certain noises or reaching for toys. So, have you ever thought that they might be trying to grab your attention and seek excitement? Next time your baby shakes its head, instead of worrying, try acting pleased with them and see if their reaction changes!
Is your baby breastfed?
While trying to latch to your breast, your baby will subconsciously shift their head back and forth as they position themselves. This could potentially be the reason responsible for the motions and a sign that they want to be fed.
This act could then come as a comfort to the baby due to the connection they will have with their mother while breastfeeding.
On the other hand, while feeding, the gesture could also be a sign your baby has finished. But this is a skill your baby won’t usually develop until around the 1-year stage.
When is head shaking in babies a cause for concern?
It’s very normal for a parent to become worried about the sometimes-scary movements that babies can do. But sometimes, there could be a more critical answer and its your role as a parent, to recognise these signs.
However, the most important thing to remember when finding a diagnosis for your baby is to not panic, which we know can be difficult as a new mum, especially if you suffer from postnatal anxiety. The little one can sense when their mother is feeling uneasy and worried which can therefore influence their mood.
Below are the most common medical causes behind baby’s head shaking
As the name suggests, shuddering attacks occur spontaneously and cause your child’s body to shiver. These movements can travel to the head and neck area which could take the form of the familiar head shaking movements you happen to be worried about.
If this is the case, don’t panic! They are mostly harmless, and doctors do not know what the cause behind them is. However, if something seems more sinister, we always recommend you contact your GP.
If the headshaking is sudden, it could be that your baby’s attempt to relieve pain in the ears due to an ear infection. Other signs include:
· Baby grabbing its ears.
· Baby has a fever.
· Baby becomes suddenly unsettled
Below is the NHS link for ear infections.
After seeking a doctor, you may be prescribed with antibiotics for your baby to treat the infection.
Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder
During the first year of your baby’s life, diagnosing neurological disorders such as autism (Autism Spectrum Disorder) is nearly impossible. Simply the shaking of the head is not enough to be a sign of the disorder but could potentially be a symptom alongside others that have, so far, gone undetected. Other symptoms of autism in children could include:
- Lack of response to surroundings
- Avoiding eye contact
- Lack of smiling
- Other repetitive movements such as hand-flapping, rocking their body or flicking their fingers
- Not meeting milestone developments
- Unusual gaze
- Poor social interactions
If your child has these symptoms, although they could be autistic, it is necessary to understand that this isn’t always the case, and it is extremely difficult to get a diagnosis for your child at this stage. However, if you are anxious, we advise you to contact your GP and seek advice.
Below is the NHS link that covers everything about autism in children.
It may sound scary, but the notorious headshaking has the potential to be a symptom of epilepsy in your baby.
People with epilepsy have something known as ‘myoclonic jerks’ which are minute seizures that cause sudden contractions of the muscles. Like others with epilepsy, there jerks could be happening in your child’s neck and could be causing the apparent head shaking. Myoclonic jerks can look as though your babies head movements are involuntary so consider whether or not you baby’s movements appear random and odd.
Other symptoms of epilepsy in babies could include:
- Baby has fever and rash- could be a sign of infection.
- Baby becomes abnormally fatigued or struggles to wake up.
- Baby’s head banging against objects such as wall or furniture.
- Baby struggles to make eye contact.
- Stiffening of the muscles in the legs.
- Baby has difficulty breathing.
- Sudden loss of fine motor skills.
Below is the NHS link for epilepsy in children.
We urge you to seek medical advice if you think your child has epilepsy as doctors should be able to diagnose your child and offer you help.
Other neurological disorders
Like autism, babies with neurological disorders may be struggling to meet the developmental milestones. Their headshaking could be involuntary and work alongside other unusual behaviours that are typical for neuro-divergent babies.
It is impossible to cover every disorder and symptom here, so we advise you to find out more from your GP.
How can YOU help?
All the head shaking can put tension on your baby’s body but there are some ways to help.
After bath time, gently rub and massage your baby’s body, particularly their shoulders and back, with some baby oil or simply the water in the bath.
This form of relaxation may help to remove tension in the muscles to reduce the jerking movements. Other reasons to do baby massage include improved sleep for your baby and quality bonding time.
Try not to over-react
Always remain calm in front of your baby by not panicking due to the movements. As said previous, your little one may simply be grasping your attention on purpose, hence seeking a reaction. So, therefore if you wish the movements to stop, try not to react at all.
However, it is important to not discourage your child when they reach these milestones so always be careful when acting uninterested.
Seek help from a professional
Although it is comforting to do some research at home, it is important to not self-diagnose your baby and instead, always seek advice from your GP. If a medical issue goes ignored, there could be serious consequences for your child.
If researching potential medical issues, we urge you to use a reliable source such as the NHS’s website linked below.
So, should YOU be worried?
The answer is usually no!
Your little one is in the early stages of experimenting with how their body moves and how it feels. They are even beginning to imitate familiar gestures to get a positive response from you! So, there is mostly no need to be anxious.
However, despite head shaking in babies being a symptom of various potential medical conditions, it is easy to distinguish as a problem when along with other symptoms like those mentioned previous. If your motherly instinct is telling you something feels off, it usually is. So, if this is your case, research potential causes via the ‘NHS’ and contact your GP where necessary.