Baby shudders

Find out what's the deal with those shudders
Last updated: January 3, 2020

Babies can often behave in mysterious ways which are completely normal. Shudders are one of those things and this article aims to explain what can cause shuddering in infants and shed some light on when it’s nothing to worry about and when it might be something to seek medical advice over.

What is a baby shudder?

A shudder which can sometimes be referred to as a shiver, jerk jitter or tremor is the sudden and excessive movement of the body which can last a few seconds with no consequence. Infantile shudders should not be confused with seizures.

Shuddering looks like and sounds like they are cold and their lip may quiver as well. Other times it looks like they are just shaking something off. Then it stops.

Newborns and toddlers can shudder from time to time just like adults can and the worrying thing for parents and perhaps you reading this is that they can not tell you the cause or what’s up – however, even if they could they would just say it’s nothing.

Also read: Check out our award winning baby nursery product guides on sleeping bags, weaning products, creams for face, hammocks and monitors?

why does my baby shudder

What does a shudder look like / is my baby shuddering?

A shudder in infants look just like an adult shudder, you know the feeling that you might get when a sudden cold breeze hits you or you may think back to a scary memory. You probably also know that the shudder comes and goes unexplained! When they experience a shudder it will come suddenly – they’ll typically bend a little, stiffen up and vibrate – almost as if they’re freezing cold. They may even let out a bit of a gasp. A shudder will only happen when they’re awake and it will not disturb or upset them.

It is instantly recognisable and clearly different to tremors and seizures.

What causes babies to shudder?

There have been a lot of studies into infant shuddering attacks, including a research paper by the Academic Journal of Pediatrics and Neonatology who have all concluded that “Shuddering attacks are recognized as an uncommon benign disorder occurring during infancy or early childhood”. If you observe your children shuddering before they sleep it could be a simple case of a hypnic jerk.

As you can probably tell, we have not offered an explanation as to the cause of the shuddering except to say that no one knows the cause but there is nothing to be worried about, either. It is just something some children may experience and it usually goes away before their 4th birthday.

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Many parents wrongly think a baby shivering is a babe that’s cold. Well, it’s somewhat true as Kidspot confirm, newborns don’t (can’t) shiver from the cold because they have a special kind of fat they use to keep warm but after 6 months or so shivering can be used as a mechanism to warm up. However, a shiver from the cold is most certainly not a shudder.

What is infant shudder syndrome

For something to be considered a syndrome there should be multiple symptoms relating to an abnormality or condition. There is no such thing as infant shudder syndrome and the likelihood is that it is in fact something else entirely such as epilepsy or a seizure. Take a look at the following points to see if your little one is likely to have a condition that should be looked at by a medical professional:

Shuddering attacks last more than 20 seconds, and any of the following:

  • Your child has a temperature (fever)
  • They have an injury
  • Lethargy
  • Poor appetite
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Abnormal eye movements
  • Breathing problems
  • It is happening in their sleep

If your newborn is suffering from shuddering attacks and has any of the following then it is unlikely to be infant shuddering syndrome and the cause will be something else. Go and see a doctor immediately.

Can teething cause shuddering?

It’s a myth that teething causes shudders. Teething and most infantile behaviour happens at the same time and is mere coincidence. However, teething does cause stress and discomfort and these may indirectly lead to shuddering, although unlikely. 

Why does my baby get the shakes?

Newborns and infants do mysterious movements all of the time and it’s important to stay calm and level headed and accept the vast majority of them are completely normal. However, you can certainly minimise them by ensuring all of their basic needs are met. Why not have a look at this list and see if there’s something you’ve forgotten about?

Tips to reduce the occurence of shudders

Feed them

Low blood sugar levels have been suggested to be a potential cause of baby shuddering according to Heathline. We recommend giving your infant a quick feed if you spot him shivering just to make sure they’re not starving which can cause the shakes.

Reassure them

If your baby has had a recent adrenaline boost this can lead to movements which could be construed as shuddering. If they have recently been startled of scared then calm them down as soon as you can.

Reduce stress

Stress can cause babies to act out in all manners away. Try and take them out of the situation if they seem like they are not enjoying it and just do whatever it takes to calm them down. Tiredness can make sons and daughter act out which can lead to a different type of behaviour. Have there been any major lifestyle changes since it all started?

Keep them warm

Although cold temperatures do not make babies shudder (this will probably be explained in a future blog post) it can make them shiver which can be confused with a shudder. Cold jitters tend to affect their body and jaws and not really the whole head. Wrap your bundle of joy warm to eliminate this distinct improbability as the cause of this type of jittering.

Rest them

Tired babies are cranky and stressed babies. Is it close to bedtime? Are they overtired and needs to be made to take a nap?

Can shuddering cause shaken baby syndrome?

No. It takes a violent amount of force to cause shaken baby syndrome – force which is not generated by simple shuddering.

Can bouncing a baby cause shaken baby syndrome?

Although this is unrelated to shuddering it is a related question to this term – regular bouncing will not cause shaken baby syndrome so don’t worry about that massie favourite baby bouncer session they’re having – they’ll be fine!

Conclusion

Baby shudders are a bit of a mystery but by and large they are completely normal and nothing to fret about. If you are concerned and there are other symptoms at play it’s always best to be sure and visit a doctor, though.

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