Many babies will be able to hold their heads up independently once they are around a month old, and while their muscles become stronger, they will occasionally make all kinds of "jerky" movements with their bodies that may look somewhat scary to their parents. If your baby is shaking their head "uncontrollably" and frequently, however, you may be right to be concerned and should always consult your pediatrician.
What are the possible causes of head shaking in babies?
'Strange' Head Movements In Normally Developing Babies
While parent-infant bonding is an ongoing process, infants tend to pay close attention to caregiver cues and the outside world in a social manner starting at around age two months. It is possible that the "strange", worrying, head movements a parent observes are simply a sign that your baby, with his or her imperfect muscle control, is keenly following everything you do and everything that is going on in the wide world around them.
We should also note that it's common for newborns to "jerk" or "shake" their little heads around as they search for a nipple to latch onto as they nurse. This "head shaking during breastfeeding" is completely normal.
It is quite normal for babies to rock their heads and their bodies as they attempt to gain control over their movements, as well. This rocking behavior does not necessarily indicate a developmental difference, and typically stops by age two.
Head shaking may also mean your baby is experimenting with non-verbal communicative signals (shaking their head for "no") which they are imitating after seeing them in others, especially once they are six months old or older.
Could Head Shaking In Infants Represent A Problem?
You may like to know that, although very early signs of autism exist as early as a few months of age and these signs are partially manifested in the way an infant moves their body, head shaking in infants is not specifically associated with autism.
Uncontrollable head shaking in infants, may, however, be a sign of vertigo (dizziness) resulting from an ear infection. Other signs of an ear infection in infants include crying, being fussy, tugging at the ears, trouble sleeping, fever, and fluid oozing from an ear.
Head shaking may further be a sign of rhombencephalosynapsis (RES), a midline brain malformation, or a neurological impairment such as epilepsy. In the latter case, signs and symptoms beyond infant head shaking may include poor coordination, pain, and seizures.
The Bottom Line
Parents who observe that their infants persistently engage in head shaking and who are worried about this should always let their pediatricians know what it happening. While it is entirely possible that nothing out of the ordinary is going on with your baby, listening to your intuition and following up is always a good idea. If your infant's head shaking is caused by an underlying condition that requires treatment, it is always better to obtain that treatment as soon as possible.
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