Why Does My Baby Shake His Head? Common Reasons and When to Worry

As a new parent, it’s natural to worry about every little movement your baby makes. When I first noticed my baby shaking his head, I couldn’t help but feel a mix of concern and curiosity. Is it normal? Should I be worried?

Head shaking in babies can be quite common and is often a part of their developmental milestones. From self-soothing techniques to exploring their surroundings, there are several reasons why your baby might be shaking his head. In this article, I’ll delve into the most common causes and help you understand when it’s just a phase and when it might be time to consult a pediatrician.

Key Takeaways

  • Normal Developmental Behavior: Head shaking in babies is often a part of their developmental milestones, including self-soothing, exploration, communication, and hearing development.
  • Accompanying Symptoms: Watch for other symptoms like ear problems (crying, ear tugging), neurological signs (seizures, stiff muscles), developmental milestones (teething, irritability), and eye issues (squinting, tearing).
  • When to Consult a Pediatrician: Seek medical advice if head shaking is persistent and accompanied by developmental delays, feeding difficulties, illness signs (fever, irritability), or rhythmic, unexplained shaking.
  • Normal vs. Concern: Head shaking related to playtime, self-soothing, responding to sounds or visuals, and social interactions is usually normal. However, monitor the behavior’s frequency and context.
  • Caregiver Actions: Keep track of the frequency and context of head-shaking instances, observe for additional symptoms, create a calming environment, and consult a healthcare provider for tailored advice.

Understanding Baby Head Shaking

Typical Reasons for Head Shaking in Babies

Babies often shake their heads as they develop motor skills and explore their bodies. Typical reasons include:

  • Self-Soothing: Babies may shake their heads to calm themselves, especially before sleep. This rhythmic motion can be similar to rocking or thumb-sucking.
  • Exploration: Discovering their range of motion, babies might shake their heads to see what they can do. This curiosity-driven behavior helps them learn about their bodies.
  • Communication: They might shake their heads to signal displeasure or rejection. It can be an early form of non-verbal communication.
  • Hearing Development: Babies might shake their heads due to ear infections or to respond to sounds as their hearing develops. This can be an attempt to relieve discomfort or simply react to auditory stimuli.

What Symptoms Accompany Head Shaking?

Head shaking usually occurs alone, but other symptoms could provide more context:

  • Ear Problems: If a baby has ear infections, they might pull at their ears, cry frequently, or have trouble sleeping, along with head shaking.
  • Neurological Issues: Rarely, persistent head shaking may indicate a neurological concern. Watch for seizures, stiff muscles, or uncoordinated movements if this is suspected.
  • Developmental Milestones: Head shaking might coincide with teething or learning new skills. Drooling, chewing on objects, or increased irritability can be seen during such periods.
  • Eye Issues: Sometimes, vision problems can cause babies to shake their heads as they try to focus. Look for signs like squinting, excessive tearing, or eye rubbing.

By understanding these reasons and potential accompanying symptoms, parents can better interpret their baby’s actions and decide if medical consultation is needed.

When Should You Worry?

Signs That Suggest a Visit to the Pediatrician Is Needed

Look for several signs indicating a need to consult the pediatrician. Persistent head shaking coupled with developmental delays, such as delayed speech or motor skills, is a red flag. If your baby exhibits head shaking along with feeding difficulties, like trouble swallowing or frequent choking, it’s time for a professional evaluation. Notice if the head shaking seems rhythmic and not related to any obvious cause, as this could signify a neurological concern. Additionally, check for signs of illness, including fever, irritability, or ear tugging, which might hint at an underlying condition such as an ear infection.

SignsContextual Relevance
Persistent head shaking + developmental delaysMight indicate developmental issues
Head shaking + feeding difficultiesCould be associated with swallowing disorders
Rhythmic head shakingPossibly a neurological concern
Head shaking + illness signsCould suggest ear infections or other underlying problems

When Is Head Shaking Considered Normal?

Head shaking often aligns with normal behavioral patterns. Babies commonly shake their heads during playtime, indicating natural exploration of their motor abilities. Self-soothing mechanisms, such as shaking the head before sleep, also fall within normal behavior. If head shaking occurs while responding to sounds or visuals, this shows sensory development and isn’t a cause for concern. Observe if your baby shakes their head while laughing or engaging socially; this typically represents an attempt at communication and is a normal developmental stage.

Expert Insights on Baby Head Shaking

Pediatrician Advice on Infant Behaviors

Pediatricians often reassure that head shaking in babies is usually a normal phase of development. However, they advise monitoring the frequency and context of the behavior. They stress the importance of paying attention to additional symptoms like developmental delays, feeding difficulties, or constant rhythmic shaking. Pediatricians recommend regular check-ups to track developmental milestones and discuss any concerns with a healthcare provider.

How Caregivers Can Respond

Caregivers can support their baby’s development by closely observing and recording the head-shaking instances, noting the time, duration, and context. Engaging in calming activities like gentle rocking or providing sensory toys can often help. Consulting with a healthcare provider offers professional guidance tailored to the baby’s needs. Caregivers can stay proactive by ensuring their baby experiences varied sensory stimulation and adequate social interaction.

Managing Concerns About Head Shaking

Tips for Monitoring and Responding to Baby Behaviors

Recording Frequency and Context:
Tracking the frequency and context of head shaking is essential. Documenting each instance helps identify patterns (e.g., timing, environment). This detailed record aids pediatricians in offering precise advice.

Observing Other Symptoms:
Watch for additional symptoms like fever, ear tugging, or unusual eye movements. Each symptom provides clues regarding underlying issues (e.g., ear infections, visual impairments). Report any new or concerning symptoms to a healthcare provider immediately.

Providing Calm Environments:
Maintaining a calm and safe environment helps reduce episodes of head shaking. Avoid overstimulation (e.g., loud noises, bright lights) to make the baby more comfortable.

How to Comfort a Baby Who Shakes Their Head

Offering Physical Comfort:
Using gentle touch, swaddling, or rocking can comfort a baby. These actions provide reassurance and security, reducing stress levels.

Engaging in Relaxing Activities:
Singing lullabies and playing soft music can soothe a baby’s nerves. Repetitive, calm activities (e.g., gentle rocking, humming) often reduce head shaking.

Ensuring Varied Sensory Stimulation:
Providing varied sensory experiences helps with healthy development. Introduce different textures, sounds, and visuals to stimulate the senses and possibly minimize head-shaking behavior.

Seeking Professional Guidance:
Visiting a pediatrician is crucial for personalized advice. Professional guidance ensures proper evaluation and tailored support for behavioral concerns.


Understanding why your baby shakes his head can be challenging but it’s often a normal part of development. By staying observant and noting any patterns or additional symptoms you can better gauge whether the behavior is typical or needs medical attention. Creating a calm environment and using comforting techniques can also help. Don’t hesitate to consult your pediatrician if you have any concerns. Regular check-ups will ensure your baby is meeting milestones and any potential issues are addressed promptly. Your attentiveness and proactive approach play a crucial role in your baby’s well-being.

Babies often shake their heads as part of their normal development, which can be a self-soothing behavior or a way to explore their range of motion. While occasional head shaking is usually not a cause for concern, persistent or forceful head shaking should be discussed with a pediatrician to rule out any underlying issues, as advised by Healthline. Understanding the context and frequency of this behavior can help determine if it’s part of typical development or requires further attention, similar to the guidelines provided by Verywell Family.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do babies shake their heads?

Babies often shake their heads as part of natural developmental milestones, practicing motor skills, or self-soothing. It can also be a way for them to explore their environment and bodies.

When should I be concerned about my baby shaking their head?

Be concerned if the head shaking is accompanied by developmental delays, feeding difficulties, or other unusual symptoms like fever or abnormal eye movements. Consult a pediatrician if you notice these signs.

How can I monitor my baby’s head-shaking behavior?

Record the frequency and context of head shaking, and observe any associated symptoms. Keeping a detailed log can help your pediatrician diagnose any underlying issues.

What techniques can soothe a head-shaking baby?

Comforting techniques include gentle touch, engaging in relaxing activities, and creating a calm environment. Ensure your baby has varied sensory stimulation to prevent repetitive behaviors.

Should I seek professional guidance regarding head shaking in my baby?

Yes, seeking professional guidance from a pediatrician can provide personalized support and help address any behavioral concerns in your baby.

How often should my baby have check-ups?

Regular check-ups are recommended to track developmental milestones and address any issues promptly. Your pediatrician can provide a schedule based on your baby’s health needs.