Baby hitting head with hand when feeding

Head banging: Why do toddlers and babies hit their heads?

Head banging, though it can be difficult to witness, is actually a fairly typical behavior in both babies and toddlers. Many children hit their heads or bang their heads with their hands to soothe themselves to sleep, express frustration or pain, or get your attention. It's not usually a cause for concern unless they're hurting themselves or the head banging is disrupting their sleep. To try to alleviate some of the head banging until they grow out of this phase, give your baby plenty of positive attention and establish a soothing bedtime routine.

You've probably seen your baby or toddler bump their head on quite a few things as they've learned to sit, stand, crawl, and walk – but what does it mean when they purposely bang their head on something? It can be alarming to witness, for sure, but head banging is usually not something to be overly concerned about: Young children often bang their heads to self-soothe at nighttime, get attention or express frustration during the day, or sometimes just to see how it feels.

Read on to learn more about why your baby or toddler might be banging their head, and what you can do if you see it happening.

What is head banging?

Head banging is a common behavior some children use to self-comfort or self-stimulate. Although it may look alarming, it's usually nothing to worry about. As many as 20 percent of babies and toddlers bang their heads on purpose. Boys are more likely to do it than girls, though it's not clear why.

Head banging often starts around 6 months and peaks between 18 and 24 months. Your child's head banging habit may last for several months or years, though most outgrow it by age 5.

Head banging usually happens when your baby goes down for a nap, goes to sleep for the night, or shortly after waking. This is because your baby is self-soothing, or winding themselves down for sleep. They might keep it up for just a few minutes or for as long as an hour. Head banging can also happen during the day as your baby's way of communicating with you that they're upset, frustrated, or in pain.

What makes babies bang their heads?

Experts speculate that the rhythmic back-and-forth movement of head banging may soothe a baby and help them fall asleep. Your baby may also bang their head to distract themselves from pain if they're teething or have an ear infection, for example.

Head banging in babies often looks like one of the following:

  • They repeatedly bang their head into the mattress
  • They sit up and bang the back of their head against the crib
  • They rock back and forth on their hands and knees, banging their head as they rock forward
  • They lie on their back and roll their head from side to side, sometimes forcefully enough to bang the crib against the wall and leave a bald spot on the back of their head
  • They hit their head with their hand

What makes toddlers bang their heads?

There are a few possible reasons why your toddler may bang their head:

Self-comfort. As strange as it may sound, most toddlers who indulge in this behavior do it to relax. They bang their head rhythmically as they're falling asleep, when they wake up in the middle of the night, or even while sleeping. Some rock on all fours as well. Developmental experts believe that the rhythmic motion, like rocking in a chair, may help your toddler soothe themselves.

Pain relief. Your toddler may also bang their head if they're in pain – from teething or an ear infection, for example. Head banging seems to help kids feel better, perhaps by distracting them from the discomfort in their mouth or ear.

Frustration. If your toddler bangs their head during temper tantrums, they're probably trying to vent some strong emotions. They haven't yet learned to express their feelings through words, so they're using physical actions. And again, they may be comforting themselves during this very stressful event.

A need for attention. Like screaming, ongoing head banging may also be a way for your toddler to get attention. Understandably, you may tend to become solicitous when you see your child doing something that appears self-destructive. And since they like it when you fuss over their behavior, they may continue the head banging in order to get the attention they want.

A developmental problem. Head banging can be associated with autism and other developmental disorders – but in most of these cases, it's just one of many behavioral red flags. Rarely does head banging alone signal a serious problem.

What to do about head banging

Most kids will grow out of head banging in time, but here's what to do to try to alleviate the behavior:

Give your child your attention – but not when they're head banging. Head banging can be an attention-seeking behavior, so try not to fuss over your baby every time they do it. If the sound of your baby banging their head bothers you, move the crib away from the wall.

If your child is a toddler, this tip still holds – but make sure they get plenty of positive attention from you when they're not banging their head. If they still bang their head to get your attention, though, try not to make a big deal about it, or you may reinforce the behavior. Even if you can't completely disregard the behavior, don't scold or punish them for it. They're too young to understand the situation, and your disapproval may only make matters worse.

Start a soothing bedtime routine. Help your baby find other ways to unwind and comfort themselves, especially if they're having trouble "coming down" from a busy day.

Give them a warm bath before bed, a gentle massage, or spend extra time rocking them before putting them down to sleep. Some babies also find it soothing to listen to lullabies or hear you sing softly. You may want to spend a few minutes before bed rubbing their back or stroking their forehead.

Protect your child from injury. Check all the screws and bolts on your toddler's crib once a month or more to make sure their rocking and head-banging aren't loosening anything. You can also put rubber casters on the crib legs and hang a soft fabric or quilt between the crib and the wall to reduce noise and to minimize wear and tear on the walls and floor.

If your child is less than 1 year old, don't line their crib with soft pillows, blankets, and crib bumpers; these can all pose a suffocation hazard and raise the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). (In fact, the government recently passed an act banning the manufacture and sale of crib bumpers.)

Help foster your child's love of rhythm in other ways. Your child clearly likes a good steady beat, so help them find other outlets for their love of rhythm. Babies often like the sound of a metronome at night, so you might try putting one in their room to give them the comfort of a steady rhythm.

Toddlers usually love dancing, marching, and drumming or clapping to music together. Make sure your child gets lots of physical exercise during the day, too, to help them burn off some of the nervous energy that may feed their head banging.

Try not to worry. Your child may get a bruise or two, but don't worry – head banging is usually a "self-regulating" behavior. This means your child is unlikely to hit their head hard enough to seriously injure themselves. They know their threshold for pain and will pull back on the throttle if the banging hurts.

When to call the doctor about head banging

It's a good idea to mention head banging to your baby's doctor, just to be on the safe side. Head banging in babies is rarely a sign of a developmental or emotional problem (though it can be upsetting to watch). In rare cases, it can be a sign of a larger problem.

You should notify your child's doctor if:

  • You think your baby has developmental delays
  • Your baby injures themselves while head banging
  • Your baby regularly rocks and bangs their head during the day when they're awake
  • Your baby isn't getting enough sleep because of head banging

In toddlers, head banging is still usually considered normal, but it's best brought up with your child's doctor if they bang their head a lot during the day or continue to bang their head even though they're hurting themselves. Though it's uncommon, head banging can be associated with autism and other developmental disorders, which sometimes become apparent during the toddler and preschool years.

You'll likely notice other signs of developmental delays, though, in addition to head banging. For example, autistic children generally don't relate well to people. They often aren't interested in physical contact with their parents and seem to look through people rather than at them. If you notice that your child is losing physical abilities, language, or other skills they've acquired; if they're becoming increasingly withdrawn; or if they're consistently delayed in achieving common developmental milestones, check with their doctor.

Finally, sometimes head banging in babies and toddlers during the night is a sign of sleep-related rhythmic movement disorder. This is very common in young children – experts have found that it affects some 59 percent of babies at 9 months old, but decreases to 5 percent of kids by age 5 – and usually doesn't require any intervention unless they're hurting themselves. In addition to head banging, kids with this disorder may also hum loudly, rock their body back and forth, or perform other repeated bodily movements while they're asleep or falling asleep.

Read more:

  • How to get your toddler to bed
  • Thumb sucking: Why babies do it
  • What every toddler needs to thrive

Why Do Babies Hit While Nursing? – KeaBabies

Do you find your baby tugging, wiggling, pinching, pulling, fidgeting, or even hitting during nursing sessions? Has your calm, peaceful nursing newborn turned into a seemingly aggressive, active older baby during breastfeeding sessions? Surprisingly, these behaviors are actually fairly common for breastfeeding infants - and here’s why. 
Even though this behavior might strike parents as being overly aggressive and even mean-spirited, nursing mothers shouldn’t take this behavior personally. Hitting and flailing during nursing is simply a developmental phase of infancy. Babies flail, hit, and smack during nursing sessions for a variety of reasons.

  • Your baby needs attention. 
  • Your baby might hit during a nursing session simply to get your attention. In the age of modern technology, nursing mothers often seek to multitask while they breastfeed their infants, either through scrolling through their social media, watching TV, listening to an audiobook, or talking on the phone. Your baby craves your attention at all times! Even though your sweet little one might spend a lot of effort concentrating on latching and sucking, she still wants to know that you’re paying attention to her. If you find your baby swiping your phone out of your hands, or smacking your chest as you’re trying to talk on the phone, try eliminating distractions during the next feed and concentrate on watching your little one eat. This may help your little one feel more calm, secure, and relaxed! 

  • Your baby is exhibiting a reflex. 
  • It takes several months for babies to outgrow the quirky reflexes they are born with. If your baby is hitting you during every nursing session, the behavior might just be a part of normal baby behavior! The arm movement involved in “hitting” might be a reflexive motion that your baby is exhibiting, and the soothing and calming nature of breastfeeding might enable your little one to relax so much he doesn’t realize he’s engaging in the reflexive motion. Your little one’s aimless swings will eventually become the basis for more graceful coordinated movements in which your baby can reach for and grasp objects. 

  • Your baby is enjoying a repetitive motion. 
  • Anyone who has spent significant time around a baby quickly observes that babies thrive on repetition. If your baby is hitting you at repeated intervals during nursing sessions, she might just be enjoying a simple repetitive behavior. Repeating an action over and over demonstrates a significant development in your child’s brain. She is practicing a particular motion, and in time, that motion will give way to more productive (and less painful!) motions such as reaching, pulling, grabbing and grasping.  

  • Your baby is seeking to elicit a reaction. 
  • If you react to your baby’s hitting by flinching, scolding, laughing, or simply looking at your baby, he might begin to repeat the hitting motion more often! Babies love to understand cause-and-effect relationships, and what better person to test their theories out than on mama? If you have a strong reaction, whether positive or negative, to your baby’s hitting behavior, he’ll realize that he will likely receive a response every time he does the behavior. This is actually a big step in your baby’s social and cognitive development - which might as well be celebrated! 

  • Your baby is discovering her hands and arms. 
  • When a baby is born, she probably doesn’t understand that her arms and hands are attached to her body and that she can control them. As babies grow and develop physically and cognitively, they soon learn that they have a certain degree of control over their bodily movements. Some of the first parts of the body babies take interest in are their hands and arms. Babies learn to grasp, pull, and reach for objects within their eyesight range. If your one-peaceful baby suddenly begins to slap you during nursing sessions, she may have discovered her control over her arms and is practicing using them! If this is the case, your baby might be placated by offering a stuffed animal, rattle, or blanket to hold and play with during each nursing session. 

    If your little one is hurting you with his hitting, try distracting him while you’re breastfeeding. You can offer a toy, a burp cloth, or gently play with his arms and fingers while he’s nursing. You can also try to bring your baby into a different environment - one that is dark and quiet so that he is more relaxed while he eats. Chances are, your little one isn’t causing any harm with the behavior, and there isn’t any need to try disciplinary measures on young babies! It’s a reflex that he’ll most likely grow out of soon! 


    Do remember to follow us on Instagram @keababies and join our loving and supportive KeaCommunity Facebook Group!

    Parenting is awesome. Sleep is overrated. Every day is an adventure. 

    Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Kaitlyn Torrez

    I’m Kaitlyn Torrez, from the San Francisco Bay Area. I live with my husband and two children, Roman and Logan. I’m a former preschool teacher, currently enjoying being a stay at home mom. I love all things writing, coffee, and chocolate. In my free time, I enjoy reading, blogging, and working out.

    12 reasons why breastfeeding is not only about milk

    Breastfeeding is the right choice for expectant mothers and their babies.

    Increasingly, at appointments pediatricians on the day of a healthy child are faced with the problems of breastfeeding in new mothers. This problem is very relevant, because at the moment in the world there is a "boom" of breastfeeding, and that's fine.
    It is important to remember that the best food for a baby is and will always be mother's breast milk in the first year of life
    Breastfeeding is a natural process that replaces pregnancy and childbirth. A newborn and his mother equally need breastfeeding.

    12 reasons why breastfeeding is not just about milk.

    1. Calm down. Babies have a need to suck. Even when the baby is full, the baby can still continue to breastfeed. Even if you are scared by the thought that your baby is “hanging on his chest” too much and for you this means that he is not full, then this is not so. The child has one of the most pronounced reflexes in the first weeks of life - the sucking reflex. And best of all, he satisfies him naturally, and not through pacifiers or bottles.

    2. Analgesic effect. Attachment to the chest helps to remove pain from cutting teeth, ear pain and other similar phenomena. Note that this is not always the case. If your child is restless on the chest, draws his legs during feeding, is naughty, hits his ears, then it is best to contact a specialist to examine the child.

    3. Quenching thirst. Breast milk contains a lot of water, so the baby can take it if he wants to drink, but not eat.
    It is important not to supplement your breastfeeding baby! If your personal physician or consultant claims otherwise, you should consider another candidate. Supplementation with water takes place to be bottle-fed. Don't force your child to drink water if he doesn't want to.

    4. Natural medicine. If a child is sick, he may ask for a breast more often, because his body dictates to him so. Babies are less likely to get sick while breastfed. Most often, parents do not experience respiratory diseases in the first year of a child's life.

    5. Relaxation. When the baby is overworked or frightened, the chest will help to relax and calm him down. First of all, here plays the role of contact between mother and child. The baby has no one dearer and closer than the mother, and this will continue for the first years, until the child socializes and feels himself in society. Mom is like a whole world for him, and when a child feels warmth and mother's touch, he feels completely safe. At the time of breastfeeding, this is especially pronounced.

    6. Sleeping pills. An interesting fact: at night, the level of melatonin, a natural sleeping pill for an infant, rises in breast milk. Perhaps that is why most babies fall asleep on their breasts with ease. And at the same time they continue to suck

    7. Breast milk is easily digested. There is no danger of overfeeding the baby, you can breastfeed whenever you ask. When feeding with a mixture, you should always monitor the amount eaten per day.

    8. Sucking regulates milk production. Every time a baby is breastfed, it shows the mother's body how much milk she needs. It is important not to skip breastfeeding on demand so that milk is produced in sufficient quantities. The same applies to the quality and composition of milk.

    9. Attachment. When a baby suckles, the mother's body releases the hormone oxytocin, also known as the love hormone. And the truth is, every time you feed a child, you fall in love with each other even more.

    10. Everything is free! Why buy bottles, breast pumps, bags...? Breast milk is both healthy and free. No bottles and nipples, it's better to once again spend money on really necessary or pleasant things for the baby, or for yourself)

    11. Breast milk from the breast is always at the ideal temperature. No need to freeze, defrost, heat…

    13. You can get enough sleep while breastfeeding☺ Believe it or not, many breastfeeding moms say they get enough sleep even though no one helps them with nighttime feeds. And the reason is that they don't have to get out of bed to cook and heat the formula. Breastfeeding mothers, and especially those who practice co-sleeping, breastfeed the baby that has not yet fully woken up, which allows both of them to fall asleep sooner.

    Dear mothers, remember that these moments of solitude and your contact with your baby will never be repeated. The child grows very quickly, especially for parents. Over time, he will have his own priorities and you will sadly remember those sweet moments when you were together and really needed each other.
    Everything is fine in breastfeeding and the most important thing is that there is not a single minus in it.
    “When a child cries or throws a tantrum to get our attention, one should not think that he does it out of spite or capriciousness; proceed from the fact that he really needs us and loves us.

    Carlos Gonzalez
    Kiss me! How to raise children with love”

    The article was prepared by pediatrician Sumina Nadezhda Alekseevna,

    “Polymedica” in Veliky Novgorod.

    Baby rocking and hitting the head

    Head hitting often begins in the second half of the first year of life and peaks between 18 and 24 months of age. Your child's head banging habit can last for months or even years, although most children outgrow it by age 3.

    Possible causes for your baby to hit his head:

    Strange as it may sound, most babies who behave this way do it to relax. They beat their heads rhythmically when they fall asleep, when they wake up in the middle of the night, or even when they sleep. Some swing on all fours. Developmental experts believe that rhythmic movement, such as rocking in a chair, can help your baby calm down.

    Pain relief.
    Your baby may also hit his head if he is in pain, such as from teething or an ear infection. Headbutting helps children feel better, perhaps by distracting them from mouth or ear discomfort.

    If your baby is banging his head during a tantrum, he is probably trying to express strong emotions. He has not yet learned how to adequately express his feelings in words, so he uses physical actions. And again, he can comfort himself during this very stressful event.

    Need for attention.
    Constant head banging can also help your baby get attention. He understands that you can be careful when you see your child doing something dangerous. And since he likes it when you make a fuss about his behavior, he can keep headbanging to get the attention he wants.

    The problem of development.
    Headbanging can be linked to autism and other developmental disorders - but in most cases it's just one of many behavioral red flags. Situations where rocking and headbutting signal a serious problem are rare.

    What can I do about it?

    Pay attention to your baby, but not when he knocks.

    Make sure your child gets lots of positive attention from you when he's not hitting himself in the head. If he continues to bang his head to get your attention, try not to make it a big deal or you may reinforce the behavior. Even if you can't completely ignore it, don't scold or punish him. He is too small to understand the situation, and your disapproval can only make things worse.

    Protect your child from injury.

    Check all screws and bolts and sharp corners on the crib or wherever he does it once a month or more to make sure nothing is damaged by rocking. You can also place rubber casters on the crib legs and hang a soft cloth or blanket between the crib and the wall to reduce noise and minimize wear and tear on the walls and floors.

    Do not put pillows or blankets in his crib to soften the environment, as this increases the risk of suffocation. If you want to use bumpers on your baby's crib to cushion his bumps, make sure they're thin, strong (not puffy) and securely tied to the crib railing so your little one can't stick his head between the bumper and the walls.

    Try not to worry.

    Your little one may get a bruise or two, but don't worry - rocking and headbutting is usually a "self-regulating" behaviour. This means that your child is unlikely to hit his head hard enough to seriously injure himself. He knows his threshold of pain and most likely will stop, so as not to hurt himself.

    Help develop your child's love of rhythm in other ways.

    Your child clearly likes a good steady rhythm, so help him find other outlets for his love of rhythm. Experts often recommend dancing, marching, drumming, or clapping to the music. You can also try placing the metronome in your child's room to give them a steady beat. Make sure he gets plenty of exercise throughout the day to help him burn off some of the nervous energy that can power his headbutts.

    Start a soothing sleep pattern.

    If your child shakes and bangs his head to calm himself down after a busy day, try setting a relaxing mode. A warm bath, a warm stone on your lap, and a quiet story or song can help. You can spend a few minutes lightly stroking his back or other parts of his body. Soft music in his bedroom can also have a calming effect.

    Call your doctor if your child's behavior is worrying you.

    If your child hits his head hard during the day or keeps hitting his head even though he hurts himself, you may be concerned. Although rare, head-banging may be associated with autism and other developmental disorders that sometimes become apparent during preschool years.

    Autistic children usually have less contact with others. They are often not interested in physical contact with their parents and seem to look anywhere but at them.

    Learn more