Baby turning head when feeding

9 Causes Of Baby Shaking Head Side-To-Side & How To Stop It

Babies usually do this to interact, but it may sometimes indicate a medical issue.


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You may notice a baby shaking their head while interacting with others or playing. Shaking their head from side to side is a common way older infants react to questions or communicate. Though head shaking is common in little ones, it could also indicate neurological or developmental problems.

Read this post to learn more about the typical and uncommon reasons babies shake their heads, how to deal with it, and when to consult a doctor.

Normal Causes Of Baby Head-Shaking

If you notice your baby is happy and healthy, then head-shaking is nothing to worry about. Here are a few usual reasons why your baby may shake their head. 

1. Developing motor skills

Once your baby’s neck muscles are developed, they test their ability to hold up and move the head. It is a part of normal development. Usually, by the end of the first month, a baby starts moving their head from side to side. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mention that by the age of two months, they can raise their heads while on their tummy (1). It may be jerkier initially due to developing muscle control.

2. Self-soothing

Babies may shake head side to side as a part of self-soothing. It can be a natural tactic to calm themselves down to sleep. You may notice this behavior right before your little one falls asleep.

Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP, a board-certified pediatrician in New Jersey, says, “If your baby starts shaking their head from side to side, it may be a sign that they are anxious, overstimulated, or trying to fall asleep. Self-soothing is a completely harmless way for babies to try and make themselves feel better in new situations.”

Related: 6 Tips And Techniques To Teach Your Baby To Self-Soothe

3. While breastfeeding

While breastfeeding, babies may shake their head to latch. It can be one of the first head movements babies may make. During nursing, they might also shake their head due to excitement. Though your baby may support and move their head side to side, you should support their head while feeding until the age of three months.

4. Playing and interaction

Babies start to move their heads as a part of social interaction in the initial months. You may notice increased head shaking when your baby is excited.

Related: 9 Useful Tips To Enhance Social-Emotional Development In Babies

5. Communication

A baby may use head-shake as a mode of non-verbal communication. As the baby grows older, they may shake their head along with making sounds to express emotions or demand something.  

Quick fact

Babies between one and three months begin turning their heads toward the sound’s direction (9). Hence, when two or more people talk, they may go back and forth to follow the direction of different sounds.

Dr. Alexander says, “Most babies start shaking their heads to express a ‘no’ between 13 and 15 months old. However, some may start earlier and some may not start until later.”

Baby Head-Shaking Causes That Are Not Normal

If head-shake is associated with other physical and behavioral symptoms, then it could be due to developmental problems or certain medical conditions. We will touch on a few:

6. Ear infection or fluid collection in the middle ear

It leads to pain or discomfort. This will often be associated with fever, crying, and other signs of illness. Ear tugging along with head-shaking may then occur (2).

7. Autism spectrum disorder

Image: Shutterstock

Babies with autism tend to shake their head involuntarily. Frequent headbanging is sometimes observed with this disorder. In such cases, check for these associated behavioral traits.

  • Does not respond to sounds
  • No reaction if you call their name
  • No smile or eye contact

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasizes that early diagnosis of autism disorders may improve the child’s quality of life due to early interventions and less parental stress (3).

Related: Autism In A Three-Year-Old: Signs, Diagnosis, And Management

8. Myoclonic epilepsy

Myoclonic head jerks or spasms can be seen in babies during epilepsy. According to the healthcare experts at the Boston Children’s hospital, these seizures tend to occur in clusters and may continue to happen multiple times in a day for several days. This may be due to serious neurological disorders (4).

9. Spasmus nutans

It is a disorder where babies do head-bobbing with rapid eye movement called nystagmus. Sometimes, they may hold their neck in an abnormal position. As per the information available in the US National Library of Medicine, this condition usually occurs between four months and one year of age and resolves later in life (5).

Did you know?

Sandifer syndrome is a rare movement disorder where a baby may manifest symptoms like suddenly shaking their head side-to-side in a nodding movement (10).

Repetitive Side-To-Side Head-Shaking When Sleeping

Image: Shutterstock

Shaking of head side-to-side during sleep can be a symptom of rhythmic movement disorder (RMD). It is a neurological disorder with repeated movement of large muscles before or during sleep, especially in infants. It usually involves head and neck movements and has the following associated symptoms (6).

  • Headbanging
  • Body-rocking
  • Head-rolling

This condition might be genetic since it is often seen in families and among twins. Seek a doctor’s opinion if you suspect RMD.

Quick fact

Rhythmic movement disorder is quite common among infants. 59% of infants at around nine months reported body rocking, head banging, or head rolling rhythmic movements (11).

When To Consult A Doctor?

You may consult a pediatrician if you notice any of the following events, along with head shaking.

  • Poor interaction with caregivers
  • Abnormal eye movements
  • Headbanging causing hair loss and injury
  • Increased head-shaking during anxiety
  • Trying to self-hurt
  • Delay in development
  • No response to sounds
  • Head-shaking after two years of age 

Point to consider

Track the frequency and duration for which your baby shakes their head. It will help you and your healthcare provider determine if the movement is transient or recurring.

How To Stop Babies From Shaking Head?

Head shaking may cause dizziness and disorientation in babies, and it may result in falls. It might also increase the risk of hitting the crib, table, or wall. You may follow the following tactics to prevent your baby from head-shaking.

  • If your baby does it before sleep, then try to find an alternative method to soothe them before they go to bed.
  • If it is due to stress or agitation, then create a calm environment in their room.
  • Giving a massage could help a baby to relax.

Related: How to Give Massage to a Baby: A step-by-step Guide

Image: Shutterstock

  • If you sense that the baby shakes their head as a way to throw tantrums, then do not give in to their demands. As soon as attention is given (even negative attention) it enhances the behavior.

1. Can teething cause a baby to shake its head?

Some babies may shake their heads during teething. They may shake heads as a self-soothing behavior to cope with teething pain (7). It is a normal behavior in developmentally healthy infants during teething.

2. Why does my baby jerk his head back and forth?

Occasional back and forth movements of the head can be normal, especially when your baby is falling asleep. However, persistent bobbing of the head that is back and forth can be signs of neurological problems such as bobble-head doll syndrome (BHDS). This can be due to cysts in the ventricles of the brain and can be treated with surgeries (8).

3. Do babies shake their heads when they are tired?

When tired, some babies shake their heads side to side to soothe themselves and fall asleep. Generally, this movement isn’t a cause for concern and is a mechanism some babies employ to feel less anxious.

Baby shaking head when awake and happy is typical and a good sign of motor skill development. They may use this action to interact and communicate. However, if you notice them shaking during their sleep or together with other concerning symptoms, do not overlook it. Although typical, a baby shaking head with crying, rapid movement, and other signs can indicate underlying morbidity that may require medical intervention. So stay mindful of your baby’s movements and behavior, and do not hesitate to consult your child’s doctor for prompt diagnosis and treatment.

Key Pointers

  • If a baby is healthy and happy, parents shouldn’t worry about head-shaking in babies.
  • Babies shake heads to hone their ability to keep holding their head up, self-soothing, or position their head to latch on to the nipple while breastfeeding.
  • Shaking head side-to-side is the most common way older infants respond to a question or communicate.
  • However, excessive or repetitive head-shaking indicates an underlying problem that a pediatrician must evaluate.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.

1. Important Milestones: Your Baby By Two Months; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
2. Middle ear infection: Overview; Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care; Cologne, Germany
3. Signs and Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorders; The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
4. Movement Disorders In Depth;  Boston Children’s Hospital
5. Spasmusnutans; The United States National Library of Medicine
6. Jun Kohyama and Tomoyuki Takano, A boy infant with sleep related rhythmic movement disorder showing arm banging; Brazilian Association of Sleep
7. Hannah M Tully,et al; Persistent figure-8 and side-to-side head shaking is a marker for rhombencephalosynapsis; National Library Of Medicine
8. Bobble-head doll syndrome; National Organization for Rare Disorders
9. Hearing & Making Sounds: Your Baby’s Milestones; American Academy Of Pediatrics
10. Sandifer Syndrome; Birth Injury Help Center
11. Sleep Rhythmic Movement; American Academy Of Sleep Medicine.

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Baby Twisting and Pulling While Breastfeeding? Here's What to Do

Is your baby twisting and pulling while breastfeeding? Learn how to stop breastfed babies from squirming so much and being fussy and frantic during feeds.

See if this sounds familiar:

About five minutes into your feeding time, your newborn baby starts twisting and writhing at your breast, almost as if she’s upset. All this pulling hurts, and you’re forced to pull her off. Except when you do, she still acts hungry and is even more upset.

You realized that breastfeeding isn’t as easy as you expected, what with having a baby who keeps pulling off and re-latching. What should be a relaxing way to bond has turned into a frantic and frustrating experience.

What to do with baby twisting and pulling while breastfeeding

Rest assured mama that you’re not alone, and that you haven’t failed in any way. A fussy baby, especially in the late afternoon and early evening, is normal and common. This is when our milk supply can be at its lowest (allowing the baby to suckle longer without receiving excessive milk flow).

The first place to turn to is your baby’s doctor or lactation consultant. She’ll be able to spot issues you may miss, like an ear infection or reflux that could be causing your baby to twist her head or squirm so much.

If all is clear, check out these tips that can help both of you nurse comfortably:

1. Calm your baby down first

Trying to encourage a fussy baby to stop twisting and pulling while breastfeeding can feel like a lost cause, especially in the early days. And in many ways, it is. Imagine being in a similar state and being continually asked to do something.

Instead, focus on calming him down and providing comfort, even if that means pausing your feeding session.

Maybe that means rocking him on the yoga ball or walking him around the room. Try swaddling him in a blanket, placing him on a swing, or carrying him in a baby wrap. In other words, calming him down is your goal, and feeding him comes second.

Similarly, try to stay calm as well. Babies can sense how we feel, and it’s not easy to nurse if we’re upset with them. Focus on remaining calm, remembering the bigger picture, and knowing that this won’t last forever.

Free email challenge: Feeling stuck in motherhood? Want to enjoy raising your kids again? Join my newsletter and sign up for the Motherhood Motivation 5-Day Challenge! You’ll get one actionable tip a day that will make you think (and act) about motherhood differently:

2. Limit distractions

I still remember placing my hand near my baby’s face as I nursed him. Why? He was so curious about what he was seeing that I had to block his view just so he’d keep feeding.

Because one reason your baby keeps pulling back might be because he’s distracted by what he sees and hears in his surroundings. Try to limit distractions during feeding sessions.

For instance, find a quiet spot to nurse, away from the rowdiness of the kids or the bright lights of the living room. Dim the lights, shut the curtains and turn on a fan or heater for white noise. Don’t engage with him too much, and avoid cooing, talking, or making eye contact while he eats.

3. Burp your baby frequently

A baby who twists, pulls, and grunts during a feeding session might have gas trapped and feel uncomfortable. If yours continues to squirm, pause feeding and try to burp her instead.

You might hold her in an upright position over your shoulder (make sure her tummy, not her head, is pressed on your shoulder). Try sitting her on your lap and supporting her face, neck, and chest with one hand while you burp her on the back with the other.

Take a minute or two to see if burping can help relieve her gas and encourage her to feed more steadily.

Check out these baby burping tricks.

4. Try different feeding positions

Is your go-to feeding position just not cutting it? Try experimenting with different ways to nurse your baby! Perhaps the “cradle hold” you’d always relied on feels uncomfortable for him at this moment.

If so, you might try the football hold by nursing him on one side and positioning his feet toward your back. Or you could try lying down next to him and see if he prefers feeding next to you.

And make sure that he’s feeding at a slight angle where his head is above his tummy. For instance, don’t feed him flat on his back, as this can make him feel uncomfortable while he nurses.

5. Break your baby’s suction

Perhaps the most painful part about your baby twisting and pulling while breastfeeding is the sudden release of your breast. She doesn’t just ease her lips open—nope, she yanks with all her might. This sudden unlatching pulls on your nipples and makes the experience even more excruciating.

One way to ease the pain is to have your finger ready to break that suction before she pulls herself off. Keep your clean pinky finger next to her mouth and, when you sense that she’s about to unlatch or twist her head, insert your finger to help break the suction.

What to do when breastfeeding hurts, even with a good latch.

6. Alternate with a pacifier

Try this little trick: If you notice your baby twisting and pulling, offer a pacifier. After 10 or 20 sucks on the pacifier, see if she’ll then take to your breast more steadily.

This can help her relax, especially if she loves sucking on the pacifier throughout the day. Or she realizes that she isn’t receiving breast milk from the pacifier and can be more willing to nurse from your breast instead.

7. Lessen a heavy letdown

Do you have heavy milk production, especially at the beginning of a feeding session? The fast flow of milk might be too much for the baby to take in, causing her to squirm and pull away.

Help make swallowing easier by expressing excess milk beforehand. Either express the milk with your hand and catch it with a towel or bottle, or set aside a minute or so to pump into bottles or bags.

Another option is to nurse by leaning back instead of upright. Gravity can help slow the fast flow and provide your baby with enough milk she can keep up with.


If you’re frustrated with your baby twisting and pulling while breastfeeding, know that it’s okay to feel that way. While you may logically know that this won’t last forever, this may be lasting longer than you expected or hoped for.

That said, hopefully you’ve learned a few tricks that might help his behavior. Focus on calming him down so that he’s more likely to nurse peacefully. Limit distractions that might be pulling his attention away. Burp him frequently to ease gas discomfort, and try different breastfeeding positions as well.

Break his suction before he yanks himself off, and see if offering a pacifier could help “reset” his feeding and relax him. And finally, ease a fast letdown so he can swallow comfortably.

No more fussiness, mama—now you can feed in long, calm stretches once and for all.

Get more tips:

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Don’t forget: Join my newsletter and sign up for the Motherhood Motivation 5-Day Challenge:

Non-Children's Baby Neck Problems - Into-Sana

I think that many people have encountered such a problem as the incorrect position of the baby's head. When a child constantly turns his head in the same direction, or tilts it to the same shoulder. In medicine, this condition is called torticollis. According to statistics, every 4-5 newborns have certain signs of an incorrect head position. Parents voice a lot of explanations for this phenomenon: either the child was “lying down”, laying on one side all the time, then they were “tightly swaddled”, then “dad also had it”, then he, that is, the child, “loves so much”). Often, parents do not even think about the true cause of this rather significant problem that requires immediate treatment. And all this postpones a timely visit to the orthopedist for a long time.

Now more about the pathology itself. There are several reasons for the formation of torticollis in children. It can be congenital and acquired. Today I would like to dwell on the most common cause of acquired torticollis in newborns - this is an injury to the cervical spine during childbirth.

Not only a woman, but also a man knows that childbirth is a difficult process, often very traumatic, and there is always a danger, even during normal childbirth, of mechanical damage to the fetus. And besides the mistakes of obstetricians, this is also facilitated by objective reasons, the pathology of the labor activity itself, a change in the shape and size of the head of the child and the birth canal of the mother.

However, in the process of even physiological childbirth, the generally accepted manipulations of the midwife are often dangerous for the fetus, especially for its cervical spine.

Significantly increase the risk of traumatization of the cervical spine of the newborn:

or, conversely, prolonged labor with drug stimulation
7. emergency caesarean section
8. delivery of a large fetus
9. multiple pregnancy.

One or more of these conditions greatly increase the likelihood of mechanical impact on the fragile neck of the newborn.

But even if there is a minimal deformity of the cervical vertebrae, and it is not detected and treated in time, then in the future it can lead to completely unexpected disorders in the development of brain structures. During growing up and life, the child will experience disturbances in the functions of attention, memory, emotional sphere, complications of the auditory, cardiovascular, endocrine and even immune systems.

With age, these children develop delayed speech development, speech understanding, headaches, behavioral disorders in the form of excessive capriciousness, aggression, and increased motor activity. Autism-like states can form, etc. Muscle tone in these children is usually reduced. With an injury to the upper cervical spinal cord, gait and coordination disorders, vicious foot installations, various types of posture disorders and spinal deformities can be observed, and myopia develops.

What parents should pay attention to

The first thing parents should pay attention to after discharge from the hospital is how the child behaves during any manipulations with the head and neck. Due to provoking pain in the neck, these children do not like to swim, wear caps, prefer the same breast during feeding. The neck in the first days of the child can be shortened, with an abundance of transverse folds, as if pressed into the shoulders, or elongated. The head can be sharply thrown back or turned to the side. These two symptoms may be combined. When you try to bring the head into the correct position, the child cries. There may be tension, soreness, swelling and hardening of the trapezius and posterior cervical muscles.

Sometimes these changes are not rough at first and go unnoticed. Later, under the influence of certain provocations, the previous minimal symptoms become more obvious. As a rule, these children later begin to hold their head in a prone position. They form an asymmetry of the occipital and frontal regions. Due to different muscle tone, infantile scoliosis and asymmetry of the pelvic girdle appear. Gradually, from the stage of rotation, the torticollis passes into the stage of inclination. During this period, attention is drawn to the different distance of the location of the auricles in relation to the shoulders. The head seems to fall to one side.

All these symptoms should alert the parents and the family doctor, should serve as a reason for an immediate visit to a pediatric orthopedist.

Remember! The neonatal period determines the entire subsequent life of the child, his mental and physical abilities, and even many of his future illnesses .

However, these neuroorthopedic symptoms are often overlooked or misunderstood. As a result, the most precious days and weeks are missed, when it is still possible to change something, to fix it.

As one of the leading figures in medicine, pediatric neurologist Alexander Yurievich Ratner, said: “Many diseases of older children and even adults are a late retribution for unrecognized troubles of the neonatal period” .

I want to give advice to expectant mothers to prepare the female body for childbirth even at the stage of pregnancy planning.

Particular attention should be paid to the entire pelvic girdle of a woman, its muscles and ligaments, and consult an orthopedist in time to rule out problems in this area responsible for childbirth. It is the presence of a twisted pelvis in the expectant mother that makes it difficult for the fetus to pass through the birth canal. Love your future child right now and do everything so that he is born and grows up healthy.

Dear parents, be attentive to your children, watch the position of your child's head! Better yet, show it to an orthopedist as soon as possible! Especially after complicated childbirth! And together with you we will do our best to keep your child healthy!

Children's orthopedist of the Into-Sana multidisciplinary polyclinic
Mironova Marina Alexandrovna

How to determine if a child has enough milk?

Category: Breastfeeding.

A child who is breastfed should be applied to the breast at his request during the day, and at least 3 times at night, on average 10-12 times a day. Feeding on demand - this means that at the first sign of restlessness of the baby, it must be applied to the chest. In order for the child to be satiated, it must be correctly attached to the breast, it must suck rhythmically for about 5-20 minutes, swallowing movements should be heard during sucking (swallowing milk), a well-fed child can fall asleep under the breast, after feeding the breast should become soft. Signs of a hungry baby: opens her mouth wide, turns her head in different directions (looking for a nipple), whimpers, sucks her fist.

A child suckles at the breast not only to quench thirst or hunger, but also to calm down, comfort, it is easier to fall asleep, recover, and get gassies out. Newborns are not able to regulate their bowels, therefore, in order to push out gassies, they need a new portion of milk. Therefore, the younger the children, the more often they need to be applied to the chest. If the child is not capricious, gains weight well, neuropsychic development corresponds to age, this indicates that the body develops normally, it has enough food and enough milk, but this only applies to children under 6 months old. A child who is breastfed (up to 6 months) must gain weight at least 500 g per month, the upper limit of the increase for each child is individual. But if the process of eruption of milk teeth began earlier, then weight gain is possible and less than 500 g.

What should I do to get enough milk?