June 14, 2024
baby shakes head

Baby Shakes Head Side to Side: Is It Autism?

Babies develop much faster during the first twelve months than any other stage in life. During this period of developmental milestones, your child will double his or her weight, start rolling over, put his legs ups, and make raspberry sounds. However, when baby shakes its head, it might be an indication that something is wrong and you need to pay closer attention.

Babies start shaking their heads when they are as little as one month old and, as they continue to pass different stages, their motor skills and muscles, especially around the neck area, become stronger. This makes it easier for the baby to shake his head from side to side.

Do not be alarmed when your baby starts shaking his head more often when he is 9 months old. At this age, it is considered normal, and you can watch your child do this from time to time. However, there are other factors that cause babies to shake their heads, such as health issues. Babies suffering from developmental or neurological disorders are known to have the same behavior.

This article will discuss some of the factors that cause babies to shake their heads. Besides these factors, it will also point to some of the reasons to worry and some steps you can take to help your baby.

Various Reason Why Babies Shake Their Head

There are many possible reasons why your baby is shaking his head. Most of them are benign. More often, there’s nothing to worry about but, just to be sure, read the following most common factors to consider for your baby’s fondness for head-shaking.

1. A Sign of Satisfaction or Excitement

Babies are often excited when they are being nursed by their mothers and, during such times, you will notice a baby shaking his or her head. When they are satisfied and no longer want to keep on nursing, they tend to shake their head. They do this as a sign that they have had enough and forcing them to have more only causes problems.

When your baby does this during nursing hours, do not get alarmed or think that something is wrong. Babies communicate using signs too so just listen to them.

2. To Control Their Body

Another reason why babies shake their head is to take control of their body. As their muscles continue to develop and their reflexes continue to enhance, they start to imitate what their mother does by moving their arm and shaking their head.

Once they start exploring, they never stop and the only thing you can do is sit back and watch them have fun.

3. While Breastfeeding

Almost all babies do shake their head when breastfeeding. They do this as a sign of excitement and, with time, they get used to it. However, this does not mean that their neck muscles are fully grown.

It’s advisable that you keep on supporting your baby’s head at least until he or she reaches the age of three months old. Moreover, it becomes much easier to nurse your baby when they are making less movement.

4. When Playing

Just because your baby is a few months old does not mean that they too do not have fun. Babies start playing when they are still small. They do things such as rolling over, sleeping on their back or tummy, and shaking their heads.

You will also notice your baby imitating what other people do around the house especially when they are six to eight months old.

5. Trying Out New Movement Skills

As baby muscles continue to develop, they become more daring as well. Some babies will start shaking their heads as early as four or five months old. As they become stronger, they start moving the entire body.

Even though some of the movements that the babies make may not look safe, this kind of behavior is considered normal as it happens to almost all babies. Furthermore, you also need to understand that this is the first step that your baby takes when trying to sit up without any help. Take note, however, that trying out new movement skills only last for fifteen minutes or less.

Another habit that most babies have is banging their head, which is a major concern for most parents. However, based on the study made by the National Sleep Foundation, this is normal behavior for most babies when they are six months old and this can last until they reach childhood. Most babies do not stop this habit until they reach the age of five years old.

Although this kind of action might look dangerous for the baby, such repetitive movement helps the baby fall asleep and soothes them. This behavior eventually stops in most children when they are old enough to join kindergarten.

6. Self-Soothing

Babies also shake their head as a way of soothing themselves. Besides shaking their head, they also pull their hair, ears, and even kick. Babies also do this to get rid of all the nervous energy that they have in their body.

This kind of behavior is usually seen during naptime when the baby is getting ready to fall asleep. They shake their head and try to move their hands near the face as a way of preparing themselves for sleep.

7. Imitating

Another reason why babies shake their head is to imitate what the mother is doing. A baby will try to shake his or her head when the mother does the same. As the baby continues to develop, they also use this form of action to say no to something that they do not like.

8. When They Experience Fatigue

After a long day of learning new skills and trying to stretch out their arms, babies finally get tired and try to soothe themselves by shaking their head. This leads to dizziness and makes them fall asleep within a short period of time and without any problems.

9. When Suffering from Ear Infection

Babies also tend to shake their head when they are suffering from a cold or when they are running a fever. They also shake their head during teething.

Ear infections can be very painful for the baby, causing them to shake their head for a longer period of time. When this happens, it’s important that you seek medical assistance if you suspect your baby to be suffering from any of these health issues.

The following are other symptoms related to an ear infection.

a. Vomiting or Cases of Diarrhea

Ear infection in babies can affect their stomach and intestines, which leads to diarrhea and vomiting.

b. Baby Grabs and Pulls His Ears

A baby can pull, tug, or even grab his ears when in pain. When they do this, it’s important that you find out from a health professional whether he or she is suffering from an ear infection or not.

c. Lack of Appetite

When a baby is suffering from an ear infection, it becomes painful for the baby to chew and swallow food. That is because ear infection causes an upset stomach, which makes it difficult for the baby to digest food or even breast milk.

d. Whitish or Yellow Fluid Coming out of the Ears

Whitish or yellow fluid coming out of the ears is a sign of ear infection. This does not happen to healthy babies, which is why it’s important to have the infection treated before it gets worse.

e. A Bad Odor Coming from the Ear

The baby’s ears can produce a bad smell when they have an infection. However, the unpleasant smell suddenly wears off once the ear infection is treated.

f. Having Problems Sleeping

An ear infection can make it difficult for the baby to sleep because lying down only makes it worse.

10. Possibility of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Head shaking is one of the symptoms related to autism. However, before you even think that your child is suffering from this disorder, make sure there are other symptoms related to autism besides head shaking. If you are not sure, you can always seek advice from a health specialist.

When to Be Concerned

Mothers naturally worry about their baby, especially when trying out new things during different stages of growing up. There usually isn’t a problem, but sometimes a baby can shake his head as a sign of discomfort or when he or she is in pain.

If your baby develops abnormal movements, behavior, or does the following things, then you might want to book an appointment with your pediatrician.

  • Abnormal eye contact and movement.
  • Does not want to interact with the rest of the family
  • Does not respond to voices and sounds.
  • Having an urge to harm themselves
  • Abnormal head banging that causes bruises
  • Abnormal shaking when they are nervous
  • Does not keep up with normal baby developmental milestones
  • Abnormal behavior does not stop even when the child reaches the age of two years old.
  • Banging their head on hard surfaces such as the wall and their crib.
  • Have symptoms of injury or illness such as bruises, fever, a rash, or even scrapes

Strange Behaviors that Babies Have

Toddler and babies are known to do other strange things when trying to soothe themselves or when trying to sleep. Some of these weird things you might find your baby doing are the following: pulling their hair, banging their head, rubbing their ears, belly, or feet, and even rocking their body from one side to the other.

Is It an Ear Infection?

Ear infections are one of the most common illnesses that cause babies to shake their heads. For infants that cannot express their pain verbally, one of the key indicators of an ear infection is a fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

You can also notice that the baby has fluid coming from their ears, has trouble responding to sounds, or gets upset once placed on their backs. If you find that the baby frequently tugs on their ears, it is yet another indication that an ear infection is to blame.

WebMD says that babies are prone to ear infections since their immune systems are not very strong. Babies have not been previously exposed to many of the germs around them, which is why it takes longer for them to fight them off.

Always trust your mother’s instinct no matter the situation. If the baby shakes their head in a way that causes concern after you monitor their situation, it is advisable to seek guidance from a pediatrician since they can help you better.

Is It a Sign of Autism?

Repeated movement, which includes shaking the head along with other signs, could mean autism in a baby. Baby shaking their head side to side is usually not autism, but it is advisable to be on the lookout for other signs that seem abnormal.

Such strange behaviors can usually be observed by the time the baby is 18 months old. Children that aren’t autistic typically grow out of such signs by the time they turn 3 years old. The symptoms below will help you watch out for any signs of autism.

1. Poor Eye Contact

If the baby fails to make eye contact with you or other members of your household, you should take note. By the time the baby is 3 months old, he or she should be capable of following things with their eyes.

For instance, if you hold a toy one foot away from the baby’s face, he or she should be capable of following the toy with their eyes as you move it from side to side.

2. Failure to Babble

At about 8 months, the child should start making sounds like “da-da-da” and “ba-ba-ba.” Autistic children typically don’t start babbling until about 12 months because of delays in speech.

3. Failing to Engage in Back and Forth Interactions

Peek-a-boo is a game used in many screenings for autism since it shows whether or not a child is capable of interacting appropriately with another human. Interaction with infants begins with “coos” and “babbles” and progresses into games such as peek-a-boo.

4. Failing to Point

Pointing is a language development milestone. It starts with reaching, which babies start doing between 4 and 6 months. They usually reach for a familiar toy or face above them.

Pointing starts at about 12 months old. The child will point at things they want to show you that they lack the language for.

5. Not Smiling at You

Babies love interacting with human faces. They’re so easily engaged that many of us think that we’re good with babies because they keep smiling at us.

Babies that fail to engage in what is referred to as the “social smile,” usually starting between 6 and 8 weeks old, need to be screened.

6. Unusual Gaze

If your child appears to often stare off into the distance and not hear you when you talk to them, check for hearing problems as well as autism.

7. Shows Head Lag

A study was undertaken on 6-month-old babies to observe how they pulled themselves up. Children who had trouble holding up their heads in pull-to-sit exercises were more likely to be diagnosed with autism.

Generally, if the baby fails to reach the developmental milestones as explained by your physician then it could be some hidden sign of autism.

8. Keeps Repeating Certain Movements

Babies may exhibit strange behavior and repeated movements without any signs of learning new things. It should be a cause of concern when your baby displays such symptoms. For instance, toddlers who keep lining up cars in a row over and over for more than one hour.

In babies, it looks more like rubbing a blanket on their face over and over again.

9. Does Not Want to be Consoled or Held by You

Children on the autism spectrum typically don’t like to be cuddled or held, even starting at a few months old. Mothers with children that were eventually diagnosed with autism can recall how difficult some tasks like breastfeeding were because children suffering from ASD don’t like feeling held down.

As these children get older, this will become evident in how they hug. Do not take it personally. Difficulty engaging in physical touch is common for children across the autism spectrum.

10. Incessant Crying

If your child cries nonstop and it isn’t due to colic, he or she could be overstimulated because of difficulties processing certain sensations. It’s a good idea to control their environment by reducing the amount of lighting and eliminating any extra noise.

When you notice a difference after changing their surroundings, it means it’s sensory related.

11. Loss of Key Skills

Babies with autism typically exhibit comprehension and language problems as they grow. They will make less eye contact with people and will only interact with people on rare occasions. The symptom is usually observed between 9 and 12 months of age.

A 2-year-old child might lose some skills acquired when he or she was 6 months, 12 months, or 18 months of age, such as the ability to interact with others, eye contact, and being able to comprehend what is being said to them verbally.

12. Shaking Gets Worse in Moments of Distress

If you start noticing that the movement of the baby’s head from side to side intensifies during moments of distress, then it could be another sign of autism that you need to watch out for. This can happen when they are fearful about something, anxious about something, or hungry and crying.

13. Headbanging

If your baby loves banging his or her head on the crib, wall, or even uses their fists to hit the wall even after being bruised, then it should be a reason to start worrying. The baby may even shake their head violently during moments of anxiety or frequently for extended periods of time.

This is particularly true if it happens frequently during moments of stress.

14. Insomnia

Insomnia, especially sleep onset insomnia, is quite common with people who are autistic. This is defined as the inability to stay or fall asleep. Sleep hygiene can get an autistic child to sleep.

Getting Your Baby Checked

If you are concerned that your baby might be suffering from autism, the first thing you need to do is take a deep breath and then talk to your child’s pediatrician about it. Your doctor will go through a checklist with you, similar to the one that you have just read.

Having two or more of the above traits makes your child eligible for screening. The Affordable Care Act and all other state insurance cover autism screening. If you don’t have insurance, it could cost between $600 and $1,000 depending on your location.

Luckily, unless your baby shows any other signs listed above, it is highly unlikely that the head shaking is any reason to be worried. You can clear your doubts or confirm whether any of the signs you see in your child is a sign of autism by talking it over with your child’s healthcare provider.

How to Stop your Baby from Shaking Its Head?

Baby shaking head constantly can cause dizziness or drowsiness. Follow the tips below to stop the baby from making this a habit.

1. Don’t Pay Attention.

Pay no attention when the baby shakes his or her head and don’t show any reaction to encourage them.

2. Try Relaxing Techniques

Relax the baby’s muscles with a soothing massage to calm the reflexes. Grab some baby oil or lotion and try to cautiously use techniques for relaxing the baby’s muscles.

3. Modify the Environment

Try changing the environment where the baby shakes his or her head and take him or her to a place that’s calm and stress-free.

4. Track the Duration and Frequency

Monitor the time the baby shakes his or her head. If the shaking happens before bed or during nursing, there could be underlying reasons that can be addressed.

The Takeaway

Shaking the head from side to side is completely normal behavior in babies. It is like a stage that babies must pass through since their motor skills are still under development and they are learning to control their bodies.

Babies are also likely to shake their heads from side to side when they are playful and excited. In the absence of additional symptoms, it is unlikely that anything is actually wrong with the baby.

Baby shaking head is typically not a cause for concern, but there are some instances when you need to consider talking to a pediatrician. Frequency is usually an important sign of whether or not the shaking is normal.

If you discover that your baby shakes his or her head a bit during playtime or feeding time, it is probably not a medical emergency. Conversely, if the head shaking is frequent and lasts for a long time, you need to see a doctor immediately.


  1. Could Your Child Have an Ear Infection? https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/ear-infection/features/child-ear-infection#1
  2. Babies and Head Banging: What Parents Need to Know https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/babies-and-head-banging-what-parents-need-know
  3. Developmental milestones for baby https://www.marchofdimes.org/baby/developmental-milestones-for-baby.aspx
  4. What Is Autism? https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism
  5. Repetitive behaviors in blind children http://www.familyconnect.org/info/browse-by-age/infants-and-toddlers/social-life-and-recreation-iandt/repetitive-behaviors/1235


Helen is the founder and chief creative officer of ParentsList. Helen is a mom of three, two boys and a girl, her youngest. She’s a stay-at-home mom who just happens to love writing on the side. She loves spending time with her children, especially on warm, cozy Sunday afternoons when everyone’s just relaxed and enjoying each other’s company.

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