When my daughter was six months old, she started shaking her head like she was saying “no”. She would smile and laugh while she did it, so I’d do it too and tell her that she was saying, “No no no!” Baby head-shaking is usually considered normal behavior, but little did I know it could be a serious cause for concern.
There are several reasons a baby might shake their head:
- Learning to control their bodies. This is the most common reason a baby will shake their head. As the child explores their body and is constantly learning new things, they realize that it can be fun to shake their head back and forth. Try it–you might get a little dizzy if you shake it long and vigorously enough! Or try it while lying on your back–you’ll hear some interesting noises in your ears.
- Self-soothing when sleepy. Some babies elicit this behavior when they’re tired, and it helps calm them down and get them ready for sleep. This is also considered normal behavior.
- Ear infection. One concerning reason a baby might shake their head is if they have an ear infection. If the head shaking is accompanied by a cold, fever, tugging on the ear, lack of energy, or other unusual behavior that indicates illness, contact your doctor immediately. Ear infections can become very painful as they get worse, so you’ll want to catch it early on.
- Possible autism spectrum. There are many symptoms of autism, and head-shaking is just one of them, so it should only be concerning if your baby shakes his head and displays other indications in alignment with autism. If you are concerned this may be a possibility, it’s a good idea to ask your doctor immediately.
Possible signs of autism to know about.
If your baby shakes his head and has no other unusual behaviors but seems otherwise completely normal, there should be no cause for concern. However, if your baby shows any of the following signs, you should contact your doctor immediately, as these could be indicators of a neurological or developmental disorder:
- Doesn’t interact well with parents or siblings, doesn’t respond to his name, your voice or other sounds, and doesn’t smile or show interest, or has an unusual gaze;
- Doesn’t communicate well, is uncoordinated when trying to communicate nonverbally, or doesn’t use or show gestures to attempt communication;
- Repeats behaviors or movements obsessively and doesn’t seem interested in learning new things;
- Loses previously acquired skills and regresses when 19-21 months old, such as losing language, comprehension, words, social interaction, interest in people, eye contact, and interactive games.
- Doesn’t make eye contact and doesn’t seem to look at you, but through you;
- Bangs head on crib, wall, or with fists, developing bumps or bald spots and seems to want to hurt themselves;
- Head shaking increases during moments of anxiety and happens frequently or lasts a long time; or
- Does not reach developmental milestones as outlined by your doctor.
Other strange behaviors.
Babies and toddlers can do some weird things, especially when they are trying to self-soothe.
In order to fall asleep, you might see your baby do things such as: bang their head, twist or pull their hair or yours, stroke or rub their ears, feet, belly, or private parts, emit vocal, facial, or body tics, shrug their shoulders, twitch, or rock their bodies side to side or on their hands and knees.
Again, unless they also exhibit some of the extreme examples listed above, they are probably just being normal (weird) kids. As a parent, there will always be things to worry about, and as you know, it’s better to be safe than sorry. So if you have any reason to believe your child may be shaking their head for a reason other than curiosity, fatigue or boredom, it’s best to contact your doctor, just for your own peace of mind.
Thankfully, my daughter is just a big goofball, and at nine months old, she now likes to throw her head back and jump at the same time. I just have to make sure I’m always there to catch her. Babies: always keeping us on our toes!