Recently I’ve noticed that when Little Man gets excited, he goes through a very specific set of behaviours. He will raise both arms up and out wide, lean in with wide eyes, and start shaking. This could happen over a new and exciting toy, a new experience (such as when we first took him to the seaside and dipped his toes in the ocean), or even a new food. It’s such a rapid shaking, it’s almost like he’s vibrating with excitement. This got us a bit worried… Why does my baby shake so much when he gets excited?
Shaking when excited
We’ve all heard the phrase “shaking with excitement”, but I have to admit I assumed it was a metaphor until I had a baby. It’s almost as if he gets so excited that he just can’t contain himself! Now, I know that babies do lots of things that seem weird (like staring at lights, or crawling backwards) but are actually totally normal. So, is it normal for babies to shake with excitement?
Is it normal for babies to shake with excitement?
Yes! It’s very common. It’s to do with baby’s immature nervous system. Their developing nervous system sends too many electrical impulses to the muscles and they get all twitchy. It’s normal for babies to shake with excitement, when they see someone they know or a favourite toy. This can present in lots of different ways – for instance, full-body shakes, or baby may clench his fists and shake, or tense up his whole body when excited.
Some babies may also display shuddering or shaking at seemingly random times, when there’s no particular reason for them to be excited, and sometimes it can last for a few seconds. No-one really completely understands the cause of this infant shuddering, but it’s not harmful and usually goes away by the time they’re four years old. Sometimes it’s referred to as infant shudder syndrome, shuddering attacks, or shuddering spells.
If baby is otherwise healthy, developing well and meeting his or her milestones, then there’s probably nothing to worry about if he or she tends to shake with excitement. Life is just that exciting when everything’s new! There’s no treatment for infant shudder syndrome, because it’s not an illness – it just goes away over time.
However, of course it can look a bit peculiar, and as a parent you may worry that it looks like your child having a short fit. If you’re worried, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and speak to a medical professional.
When to get worried about baby’s shaking movements
Of course, as parents it’s natural to worry. Shaking can be evidence of a seizure, but there are some specific seizure warning signs to look out for:
- If shaking continues for over 20 seconds
- If the shaking movement is accompanied by vomiting, unusual eye movements, or loss of consciousness
- If it’s associated with illness or injury, or if baby sleeps for a long time afterwards
If you notice any of these signs, you should seek medical help urgently.
Ultimately, you know your baby best, so even if you don’t spot any of the warning signs, if you think it’s time to call the doctor or NHS 111, then do it. It may help (if you think of it at the time) to take a video of the shaking behaviour that’s worrying you, to show your health professional.
Is baby shaking when excited a sign of autism?
When I got onto Google and started researching about babies shaking with excitement and infant shudder syndrome, it was clear to me from the Google search bar that lots of parents who are researching this subject are worried that their baby’s shaking or shuddering could be a sign of autism. This is probably because some people with autism use repetitive or rhythmic movements to soothe themselves, and this can take the form of shaking or hand flapping.
However, these kind of behaviours are also common with neurotypical children, so just because your baby or toddler shakes with excitement or flaps his or her hands, doesn’t mean that it’s a sign of autism. There are other early markers of autism which are more reliable as red flags that something could be wrong, such as a lack of eye contact or smiling. Again though, you know your baby best – so if you’re concerned that something is wrong, talk to your doctor.
Other causes of shuddering or shaking in babies
There are other reasons that babies may display shaking or shuddering movements, beyond excitement, infant shudder syndrome, or epilepsy. Babies and toddlers often shake their heads from side to side when falling asleep – it can actually be a motion they use to help themselves fall asleep (not that it looks very restful, especially when they start head-banging!), or a sign of teething or even an ear infection.
There’s also some suggestion that infant shudder syndrome could be an early sign of vitamin d deficiency in very young babies, so if you’re exclusively breastfeeding make sure that baby is getting their vitamin D drops in line with NHS guidance (babies who are formula fed get their vitamin supplements from the formula, so they don’t need any more).
So, in conclusion… there are loads of reasons your baby may shake or shudder, but if he or she is specifically displaying this behaviour when excited, it’s probably nothing to worry about. In some situations, continued shaking or shuddering could be a cause for concern though, so exercise your best judgement as a parent, err on the side of caution, and check with a doctor if you think you need to.