55 answers

5 Month Old Shakes Head from Side to Side

I have a baby boy who is almost 5 mos old and has begun shaking his head from side to side... as if he is trying to say "no". I remember that he had done this maybe at about 2 mos of age, but it had stopped. Now all of a sudden, it has started again and I'm worried that something may be wrong with him. He does not do it all day, but only when he is about to go to sleep. It scared me so much last night that I counted the shakes and there was one series of 15 shakes (counting 1 for right and 1 for left)! Does anyone have experience with this? Do you know what it could be?

What can I do next?

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My son has done a similar head shake on and off from about the same age. He's now 19 months and we call it shaking his brains. He laughs and thinks it is a funny game. He seems to function normally on all other fronts. I worried at first as well. I think they are just getting the feel for their bodies.

In Secrets of the Babywisperer-she mentions that movement as a way for babys to "self soothe". I have one of those little video moniters and have noticed my 4 month old doing the same thing...

My now 3 yr old used to shake his head side to side to stay awake, just his way of fighting sleep....

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Hi, my grandson did this but it was really a response to us. I guess you have to see if it is playful or if it seems he is lost in his own world with it. If he is not looking at you and he is not responding to your being there, I would investigate some things.
I am the mother of an autistic son. I would ask you, how he is developing and does he interact with you...eye contact, engages with you, babbles...if these areas are okay, it could just be self soothing. If you are seeing a decline in his interaction or any of these areas, then write me back. What shots has he had and when?

You can ask your pediatriician about it, but I suspect it is a relaxation and stress reliever for him. Children sometimes use repetitive movements to put themselves to sleep. Watch to see if he starts to do it at other times of the day other than when he is going to sleep

Hi C.! It could be just a repetitive motion that is self-comforting. But I think that I would call the pediatrician and have him/her look at your baby's ears, nose & throat. Ask about neurological problems, don't shy away...ask the doctor how such problems are diagnosed & what symptoms professionals look for. God bless you, first-time mom! Lucy

Sounds like he is just saying "no" in a silly way. Try telling him that he only needs to shake his head once otherwise he will get dizzy.

Hi C.,

My 16-month old son does the same thing but not all the time. He just started a few weeks ago. He was laughing when he shook his head. We told him to stop but he would not because he was experiencing the fun. I am not sure what it is.

Hi Chrisitine,
Our son does this too at around the same time of age... we were worried that it might be seizures! But then I read in a parenting magazine that if you're pediatrician says it's not anything serious - that it might be a 'shuddering response usually triggered by happiness"

So I would check with your doc - and if it's all clear - maybe he's just very happy?!
: )

If you're worried, talk to your doctor as you need to trust your gut. But, I think I remember my daughter doing this and it first we thought it was kinda funny and then I actually got concerned. And then it stopped.

You can find a good chiropractor for kids at www.icpa4kids.com - since sometimes kids can be in pain or uncomfortable from a headache, etc and can't tell you. Neurologically, this might just take care of it. There is a lot of research on the site.

(I've been adjusted since I was 2 days old (I'm 33 now) - and my sons were both adjusted at some point within the month after they were born.)

My first son was 3 weeks old and just started screaming uncontrollably - completely NOT his style. I got him adjusted and literally immediately, he went back to my happy baby. I've seen things like kids shaking thier heads or hitting themselves and then after an adjustment, they are fine.

Keep in mind, it usually takes only one to a few adjustments - and kids respond really fast to them.

I remember doing this as a child and my sister did it too. We would rock our head back and forth on the bed saying mommy-daddy as we rocked our head. I figure it is away to self soothe. I turned out very creative and intelligent so don't worry. If it is a concern talk to a pediatrician. Take care D.

I would address this with his pediatrician instead. If this is something to worry about, his doctor would be the most appropriate person to ask.


most likely it's a totally normal form of self soothing (plus for a lot of kids it just feels cool and the way that sounds change as your ears turn is fascinating to them) - especially since he seems to do it most immediately before sleep. if you're still worried mention it to your pediatrician - he should be able to rule out medical issues.

My son did the same thing - always just before sleep. My pediatritian said it is very common and is a way for infants to sooth themselves -sort of like rocking, but they aren't very mobile so this works for them. Not to worry. I've had two children since then and they all did it at this early age.

When in doubt, take him to the pediatrician. It's better to be safe than sorry. My son did the same thing around the same age. His eyes would roll a little as his head shook. We took him to the pediatrician and they had him immediately scheduled for an MRI. His tests came back normal, eventually grew out of the head shaking and fine now (6 yrs), but if something had been really wrong, I never would have forgiven myself if I had not taken him into the pediatrician.

Good Luck and I hope your outcome is as positive as mine.

Hi C.,

My son did this as well. He used to shake his head so badly that he was rocking his bassinet when he was an infant. I was also very concerned about him doing it around the same age as your son but my pediatrician assured me that it was his little way of calming himself down. Then at around 10 mos. he told me he just liked how it felt. Now my son is almost 2...he no longer shakes his head at all when going to sleep. Though he still enjoys it once in awhile just to be silly.


my daughter does the same as did my son i have found that this is a form of self soothing and a behavior I generally only see when they are over tired or over stimulated and neither child really ever took a pacifier so they gotta do somethin lol I am a leg shaker even today and especially if im really tired from what i understand this is a very common behavior in little ones but you know ur child better than any of us and if you have the concerns an feelings of someting just not right see the pediatricion and find out more

lots of luck to u

i would take him to the doctor! My daughter did the same thing actually! She did it when she went to sleep and woke up! I didn't think much of it, but she did it in front of the doctor and he was a bit concerned! Anyway, long story short,she was having little seizers! They weren't dangerous! In fact she out grew them! But they were uncomfortable for her and I! Anyway, just ask the doctor and check it out! It could be nothing, always good to find out though!

Hi C.,

That sounds really scary.. I have a 5 month old and a 2 year old and I don't recall them skaking their head from side to side. I did get a little scared when my 5 month head was getting a funky shape...I thought something was wrong, but the Dr's said it was from feeding on one side too much.

When is your son's birthday? My 5 month old (Audrey) is 10/5.

I would definitely not worry about this! I learned recently in a child growth and development class that sometimes babies will kick their feet or do other random things to soothe themselves to sleep. I'm sure it's just his own personal habit.

My now 15-month old daughter would shake her head from side to side at an early age when she got excited, especially with her big brother (14 year difference) who she started doing this with every time he walked in the room. Also, we would do a sing/song and she would do this. She still does this from time to time and especially when she's really excited.

Hello C.!

I have a wonderfully healthy little 12 month old. My son does that too. Usually he shakes his head while I am holding him/rocking him just before bed. My son also is a rocker. Before he crawled he would sit and rock for hours.

When you have repetitive behaviors that can be associated with a problem you need to be allert to the other diagnosing tools. (For instance if my son didn't engage with me or others he would have needed to be seen by a doctor.) Turns out that my son uses these actions as soothing techniques. He uses these instead of a pacifier, blanket or stuffed animal.

By your description I suspect your son is doing the same. These can be great options for self soothing. The biggest concern about the shaking (if I am correct in my assessment) is the bald spot he could get from the repetitive rubbing.

As always, trust your INFORMED instincts. Some people suspect a connection between early repetitive behaviors as soothing techniques and a later diagnosis. I you are truely concerned call your son's doctor.


Hi C.,

I have an 8 month old. He used to shake his head back and forth quite a bit too and thought he had an ear infection! But it was nothing and he got over it a month later. Maybe it's because he found something else to keep him busy...But I think it's normal. You might want to ask your pediatrician just in case.

He could be teething. My cousin's kid started to pull on his ear when he started to teeth.

Have fun!
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Ear ache? Fluid in the ears? I am not sure but when my kids had fluid in their ears they would shake their heads...just venturing a guess. I would have it checked out by the doctor.

My little guy starting doing this, too, and then a tooth popped out....he is probably just teething! My son starting doing it again the next month, but the tooth took longer to break through.

I know what it is! A five month old preparing himself to sleep, combined with a first-time mom who worries about everything, as first-time mothers are prone to do. I am the mom of four, and two of mine did this. Those two are now 22 and 21. It is perfectly normal! He is learning about his body and how to control it, he is settling himself down to sleep. Relax, and enjoy your sweet little guy!

Its no big deal my son has been doing it since about 2 months old, he is now 18, and still rocks back & forth, its called rocking, they do it to help them wind down and relax, its a form of stress release, and sooths them, not to worry mom, as long as he is not banging his head against the wall, just his way of rocking himself to sleep.

In Secrets of the Babywisperer-she mentions that movement as a way for babys to "self soothe". I have one of those little video moniters and have noticed my 4 month old doing the same thing...

My son has done a similar head shake on and off from about the same age. He's now 19 months and we call it shaking his brains. He laughs and thinks it is a funny game. He seems to function normally on all other fronts. I worried at first as well. I think they are just getting the feel for their bodies.

I've experienced this with both my kids and heard of others doing it too. I believe that kids do this to soothe themselves to sleep, and also just to play around because it feels kind of funny, like spinning around to get dizzy. If you're really concerned, ask your doctor about it at your next visit.

You should definitely talk to your pediatrician if this behavior really worries you. It may be that your son is trying to keep from falling asleep and this is just how he tries to wake himself when he knows that he's almost in dreamland. I worked at a childcare center for three years and a lot of our babies had very interesting pre-sleep habits. Do you notice if he does it more when he's being held or is it when you put him down in his crib/bassinet? You may want to make sure that his head is snugly supported as he may just feel a little vulnerable as he drifts off. I hope that you find the answers you are looking for.

maybe the beginning of an ear infection

My son did this too when he was a baby and outgrew it before he was 1 and a half. It's called "head rocking" and many babies do this as a way to self-soothe when tired. It can be kind of exorcist-like and scary at first but after a while you'll get used to it. I hear some babies rock on all fours or "head bang" on crib rails to get the same effect. I'm sure your baby will grow out of it like mine did. If your baby does the rocking when not tired I'd check in with your pediatrician but to me, it sounds like your baby is doing the self-soothing head rocking thing. Who ever knew babies did such odd things?

Hi C., I have a 26 month old now and yes he did the same thing, of course I thought the worst and became very paranoid, but I talked with the doctor and he said it is very common. A lot of children fight sleep this way. There body is winding down but not there mind, there minds tell them to keep going. It could be a sign of being over tired. If this continues to bother you talk to your pediatrician. They sure did make me feel very comfortable about that subject and many others. Again my son is 26 months now and no more head shaking :)

yes my son did the same thing, at age of 2 months, now he is about 5 months and do same thing. I'm worried too. Got no answer yet. please me know if you have the answer. Thanks.

Oh my goodness. I do not want to scare you, but if I were you, I would immediately (now!), make an appointment with a pediatric neurologist. DON'T WAIT. EARLY INTERVENTION, IF THERE IS A PROBLEM, IS THE ANSWER. AND, GET A SECOND OPINION FROM ANOTHER PEDIATRIC NEUROLOGIST.

This sounds to me as if he is "rocking" himself to sleep. My adopted daughter, who had lived in an orphanage from birth to age 4 did this, and sometimes continued to do it even as an adult. She would toss her head from side to side, and even part of her upper body, with her eyes closed, until she drifted to sleep. I used to think it might have something to do with not having someone to hold and rock her, but that obviously isn't the case with your son. Many children do have some kind of rythmic ritual, such as stroking the edge of a blanket to sooth themselves to sleep. Anyway, the head tossing did not seem to harm my daughter in any way. I don't think I'd be too concerned if it seems to put him to sleep, and if he doesn't do it during waking activity.

S. Toji

My son did this too when he was that age. It's perfectly normal. Some babies (especially boys) do this as a self-soothing method, because they like the sensation of rocking. My baby would also bang his head against the crib or against a wall, which was even more upsetting to watch, but also perfectly normal.

Don'y worry. I have a 6.5 month old baby girl who does this too. Freaked me out!!! she started about a month ago and does it from time to time and she's perfecly FINE!!! I don't know why they do this, but I know it's nothing. Her eyes have been checked and her ears, so I choose not to worry about it. My thinking is it must be like when they're born and cross eyed for a while. It's just one of those weird baby things they grow out of. Hope that helps you, I understand your concern.

That sounds like a soothing technique he has come up with to help him get to sleep. They talk about it in the book Sleep Solutions.

Hi C.!
In response to your question about your 5 month old son,my son used to do the same thing when he was sleepy too. As he got older, he started banging his head on the crib when he was sleepy. My pediatrician says thats normal and i've also spoken to many other moms who have experienced the same thing. But if it does concern you alot, talk to his pediatrician just to be sure theres nothing else going on and to get the peace of mind.Good luck on a rewarding and fun journey in raising your child! By the way, my son is 4 now and is bright, energetic, and very talkative!

I don't have any experience with this, but have you had his ears checked? Maybe an inner ear problem or something like that? Just a thought. Hope you find out what the problem is. That would scare me a bit too! Good luck!

My son as well started doing that at 6 1/2 moths . He did it about 5 times now a month later I haven't seen him do it anymore . I had asked friends and they said their children did the same thing . I have a 3 1/2 year old daughter who never did this so it was new to me also .

My little girl does this as well. I always thought she was trying to get out of her swaddle, but I have since learned that she does it without being swaddled right when she is falling asleep. It is like she is trying to get settled. No worries, I am pretty sure it is completely normal. : )

My 11 mo old does something like that. more a rolling motion versus a shaking. she really likes to do it in her car seat when she is putting herself to sleep.

I would not worry about it,,he may just be putting him self to sleep as well. He would be screaming if something was wrong with his ears..and rubbing them :)

remember he still does not have much causative mobility except his head, legs and arms...so he will use these in every way he can.

I know what you're going through. When my twins were about that age one of them did the same thing either when she was playing and mostly when it was bedtime. She would do it out of nowhere. When I saw the doctor there was nothing wrong and told me it's just something new she was doing and she was restless at night. It could be nothing, I would have it checked out just in case cause you never know. Just try not to worry too much you don't need the sress. Hopefully everything's ok just get an expert opinion.

My 7 month old daughter does this too and the pediatrician says it's normal. In fact, she has a bald (ish) spot on the back of her head from rubbing there. Last Saturday we went to her first swim class (so cute- all babies) and I kid you not- every single baby there had the same bald spot and we all talked about the head rocking in their sleep. It was hilarious. I really wouldn't worry about it.

My son does the same thing. It is his way of calming himself down, since he is not a thumb-sucker and a pacifier gags him. I think is is adorable and laughed at him the first few times he did it, and now he does it to flirt with the women who stop to look st him when we are out.
The only thing is that he has peach fuzz for hair and I am afraid he is going to rub off the tiny bit he does have!!!

my son is 5 months old and does the same thing. Often times he has his mouth open and he is trying to rub his gums on my arm or on my hand. He is just looking for relief since he is cutting teeth. He should be cutting teeth right now, this is the age.

You have nothing to worry about. A lot of babies develop some bizarre behaviors, but it's just them testing things out. Sometimes they find something that makes them feel good or entertains them, and do it for awhile.

As long as your baby is meeting his milestones, makes eye contact and eats well, he's fine.

If he still does it when he's 3, then you can get concerned.

Hi C.,
As a child growing up, my brother would roll back and forth in the bed to fall asleep...sometimes for hours. He probably did this untill he was an adult. The doctor told my parents that it is normal and it is common in children who are musical. My brother is now 45 years old and has been a singer and bass guitarist since he was a teen. When he was 8 years old, he sang opera in a broadway play. He's married now and just loves music. Now we can laugh about how we would hear his head banging against the wall all night. By the way, he did start doing this as a baby in the crib. I hope this story helps alleviate some of your concerns.

I'm not a doctor (who could rule out anything medical), but I wonder if it his way of soothing himself. My baby (now 2) would shake her head from side to side when she was a little older, doing it in play (she would giggle during and after). Every child develops something to help soothe themselves, from soothing to sleep or from stress/bordedom. If he doesn't seem in distress (crying, seeming in pain), I don't think it sounds like anything serious. Asking your doctor would ease your mind if you're still worried tho. Hope this helps!

My Daughter is almost six months old and has been shaking her head back and forth before she falls asleep as well. From what I understand she's just self soothing her self. Some babies like to be rocked to sleep and some just like to be put down. My sister pounded her head on her matress until she went to college, my brother rocked his whole body, and I rubbed my feet together. I really dont believe anything is wrong but to ease your mind just call the doctor or bring it up at your next check up!

Hi C.,

First off, I don’t want to frighten you, this response is an example of my experience and hopefully it will help you. I am a mother of two boys. In September of 2007 my youngest son Tyler who was three at the time started a new daycare. Within weeks of his start date at daycare he started jerking his head. It happened throughout the day and we brought our concern to his pediatrician. He said Tyler had anxiety from a large crowd etc.

Soon after, his head jerking got worse. He was doing it at home and before bed. We knew something wasn’t right, so we took him back to the doctor and Tyler was diagnosed with a “tic” (part of the body moves repeatedly, quickly, suddenly and uncontrollably). He asked that we monitor him closely and call him immediately if things got worse. Well, they did. He started lifting his arms over his head, jerking his head and falling to the floor.

As of December 2007 my son has been diagnosed with Epilepsy. He has Myoclonic Seizures, see link http://www.epilepsy.com/epilepsy/seizure_myoclonic. As of today, he takes Depakote and Zonegran and he still has seizures everyday. We’re working with his neurologist doctor to find the right dosage to completely stop the seizures. When Tyler hasn’t had a nap, his seizures worsen at night for some reason.

It’s a must to ask your pediatrician questions. We are the mothers and we know when something isn’t right. I wish you luck and do some research.


My now 3 yr old used to shake his head side to side to stay awake, just his way of fighting sleep....

If you are really concerned you could call your ped. for advice. Does not hurt to ask, there are no dumb questions. I know my daughter does weird things before she goes to bed and she is 3, but she has something else going on. It could also be his way of winding down for the day. But call your ped. and ask him.

My son is 8 months old and does that as well. Please forward me the responses you get. Thnx

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