If your baby has been shaking their head from side to side while sleeping, nursing, or playing, you may be wondering when head shaking is part of normal child development and when it may be indicative of a larger problem.

Normal Causes of Baby Head Shaking

Because head shaking and similar behaviors are considered a normal part of a baby’s development, it’s likely that if your baby seems otherwise happy and healthy, their head shaking is not an immediate cause for concern. Here are the most likely culprits for your baby’s head shaking behavior:

Developing Motor Skills

As babies learn to control their bodies, develop the muscles they need to hold up their heads on their own, and test their movement abilities, head shaking can help them reach developmental goals.

Self-Soothing Behavior

Some babies may shake their head side to side as a way of self-soothing and lulling themselves to sleep.

Abnormal Causes of Baby Head Shaking

While head shaking alone is not typically a cause for concern, in tandem with other symptoms and behaviors, it can indicate an underlying illness or developmental issues.

Ear Infection or Discomfort

If your baby’s head shaking behavior is accompanied by a cold, fever, lethargy, or ear tugging, you’ll want to contact your pediatrician immediately, as these symptoms and behaviors may be symptoms of an ear infection.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

If head shaking is frequent and prolonged and accompanied by the following symptoms of autism in babies and toddlers, we recommend consulting your pediatrician:

  • Non-responsiveness to their name, parent and sibling voices, or other sounds
  • Doesn’t smile, communicate, or has unusual gaze
  • Repeats behaviors and movements obsessively
  • Regression of acquired skills, such as language comprehension, verbal, or social skills
  • Frequent and prolonged head banging against crib or wall

Myoclonic Epilepsy

Some children with epilepsy may experience myoclonic head jerks or spasms, which are neurological in nature and should be evaluated by a physician.


If your child is experiencing abnormal headshaking, Woodburn Pediatrics can help. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our providers.