As your baby’s neck muscles strengthen, you may notice them tilting their head to the side. While this practice is common among infants, it’s understandable to wonder whether your child is sick, in pain, or just having fun.
Is it normal for a baby to tilt head to one side when teething? Babies may tilt their heads while teething to relieve pain, but there may be other problems, such as ear infections or torticollis. If your baby looks uncomfortable or acts fussy when tilting their head to one side, it’s best to reach out to your child’s pediatrician for advice.
In the following, we’ll go over several reasons that could trigger this behavior, when head tilting may be a cause for concern, and common signs of teething and ear infections to be aware of.
Why Baby Tilts Head to One Side When Teething
You should check for other symptoms if you notice your baby tilting their head to one side when teething. The following presents explanations as to why your baby is tilting their head.
1. Attempt To Relieve Pain
If your baby suddenly leans and looks uncomfortable, he or she may be aching from teething. You will know if your child is in pain if they’re also pulling on their ears. Gum inflammation can radiate into the ear canal and babies may feel an aching in their ears. Tugging on their ear can relieve some of this pain.
2. Ear Infection May Be To Blame
Besides normal teething pain, your child may also have an ear infection. Ear infections are common in babies and young children due to the immature anatomy of the tube that connects the ear to the back of the throat, called the eustachian tube.
This allows fluid to settle in the middle ear and sometimes bacteria can build up, particularly for babies who lie down with a bottle or are exposed to secondhand smoke, causing an increased incidence of ear infections in this age group
3. Trying To Be Cute or Funny
If your baby smiles while tilting their head to the side, they’re probably just trying to be cute or funny. Some babies like to tilt their heads to the side because of the reaction they get from their caregivers.
They enjoy connecting with their loved ones. They might feel a sense of belonging if they strike a pose that makes their friends and family laugh or clap.
4. Concentrating on Something
Tilting the head sometimes helps babies concentrate on words spoken to them or objects in front of them. Some kids tilt their heads when they’re unfamiliar with the person speaking to them.
5. Torticollis in Babies
Torticollis is a sign of improper development of the neck muscles that cause the head to twist and tilt to one side.
What Causes Torticollis in Babies?
An abnormal position in the womb or variations in development of the neck muscles may cause congenital muscular torticollis where the fibers in the neck are shorter on one side.
A baby may start leaning its head to one side at birth. You also might not notice it until their later infancy when they can hold their heads up.
Acquired torticollis, which may develop after birth, may be caused by trauma or injury to the neck during birth, swelling due to reflux or infection, or even improper sleeping positions that limit the movement of your baby’s head.
Torticollis Baby Symptoms
Some signs of torticollis include:
- A flat spot behind the ear on one side
- Head rotates or tilts to one side
- A soft lump in the baby’s neck
- Limited range of motion in neck and head
- Hip dysplasia and other musculoskeletal problems
- Flattening of one side of the head
- Preferring one breast over the other during breastfeeding
Torticollis Baby Exercises
If you suspect your baby may have torticollis, you should consult your child’s primary care provider who can determine a diagnosis and connect you with appropriate treatment.
Typically, a referral to physical therapy will be given and the therapist can teach you gentle stretching exercises to do at home. These exercises won’t harm your child.
You should also encourage your baby to take part in tummy time regularly to strengthen shoulder and neck muscles.
6. Ocular Torticollis
Ocular torticollis is an abnormal head posture that helps babies see better in both eyes. Besides tilting their head, your baby may also turn their face or raise their chin.
When To Be Concerned
You should be concerned about head tilting if your baby displays any signs of pain or seems to have a limited range of motion of their head. You should also be concerned if your baby also has a temperature greater than 100.4 ℉. A fever could be a sign of an ear infection.
Baby Teething Signs
Every baby’s symptoms are different, but you can expect to see some of the following signs of teething in your child:
- Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
- Tender, swollen gums
- Touching their mouths with their hands
- Crying and fussiness
- Pulling their ears
- Rubbing their cheeks
- A low-grade fever (less than 101℉)
- Chewing on hard things
- Excess drool
- Drool rashes on skin
- Loose or more frequent stools (from swallowing excess drool)
Teething Baby Remedies
Try some of these methods to help your baby get through the painful stages of teething.
- Massage your baby’s gums with a clean finger.
- Use cold teethers, pacifiers, washcloths, or spoons. Clean after each use.
- You can give your baby cool water if older than 6-9 months.
Also, avoid the following types of teething treatment:
- Frozen solid teethers
- Teethers filled with liquid
- Teethers made of breakable material
- Teething necklaces
- Oral teething gels
Baby Ear Infections Signs and Symptoms
An ear infection typically comes with these unpleasant symptoms and signs in infants:
- Bloody, white, yellow, or green ear drainage
- Irritability and crying, especially while lying down
- Trouble sleeping for a few nights
- Pulling at the ear
- Resistance to eating during mealtimes
Baby Ear Infection Treatment
If your baby develops an ear infection, your first point of action should be to call the pediatrician.
Whether it’s a mild ear infection or one that produces a high-grade fever, your child’s pediatrician should know how to treat it properly. Some common treatments include:
- Antibiotics: The pediatrician may prescribe antibiotics Give the medication as prescribed for as long as the doctor says is necessary.
- Other medications: If your child is fussy or uncomfortable, the pediatrician may recommend Tylenol or Motrin to treat discomfort. Fever alone is not harmful and does not have to be treated.
- Time: Fluid buildup without infection will likely clear up on its own. However, untreated or chronic ear infections can lead to damage to the eardrum over time and you should always consult your child’s pediatric provider if you are concerned.
- Prevention: You can help reduce your child’s risk of ear infections by avoiding smoking in the house or around your baby, always holding them at a 30-45 degree angle during feedings to help prevent fluid backing up into the ears, and making sure your child gets all recommended vaccines on time (two of the most common ear infection bacteria are now part of the standard vaccine schedule).
Baby Ear Infection vs. Teething
Since your baby isn’t talking yet, it may be challenging to determine what’s hurting them. It could be their ears, or it could be their emerging teeth. Ear pulling, fussiness, and trouble sleeping are all symptoms of both ear infections and teething.
It can be difficult to determine what might be troubling your baby. Managing symptoms in a fussy but otherwise well baby is perfectly fine, but for fever, poor fluid intake, or persistent fussiness, the best way to determine what is bothering your infant is to take them to their pediatric provider for a full assessment.
Why Do Babies Pull Ears When Tired?
Babies pull their ears when they’re tired because it’s a way to soothe themselves before bed.
Pulling on their ears releases pressure and helps them relax for their nap or bedtime sleep. Over time, they won’t need to soothe themselves in this way anymore.
Do Babies Pull at Ears When Teething?
Yes, babies pull at their ears when teething. Ear pulling can relieve pressure from the gums, reducing pain in teething babies.
However, babies can also pull at their ears when they’re tired, have an ear infection, or want to explore their bodies. Monitor your baby to make sure no other symptoms develop.
Babies tilt their heads to one side from teething, but it could also be from an ear infection or torticollis. They could also be doing it to look cute or funny for your attention. Consult the pediatrician if your child has any other symptoms.
Mom of three (including identical twin boys), wife, and owner of Parents Wonder. This is my place to share my journey as a mother and the helpful insights I learn along the way.