Babies Rocking Back and Forth: What Does It Mean?

    Updated 03 February 2022 |
    Published 10 June 2019
    Fact Checked
    Medically reviewed by Dr. Anna Targonskaya, Obstetrician and gynecologist
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    As a parent, it’s normal to show concern or worry when your child starts doing something you didn’t quite expect. For instance, if one of your children were to become ill with mono or another sickness, you’d likely do everything in your power to find out everything you can about it. That way, you could take the appropriate steps toward helping them.

    Why do babies rock back and forth?

    The same concept applies for when you see your child participating in unusual behavior of any kind. And while at this point, you may have finally just started to feel back to normal, including having sex after delivery, tackling any sex issues postpartum, figuring the ins and outs of breastfeeding like nipple shields, and, generally settling into the mom life, you’re still figuring things out. You’re learning to love your post-baby body, and you’re getting to know all about developmental milestones with your baby.

    When a baby rocks back and forth, it can mean various things. It may mean your child is feeling particularly playful or it may indicate that he or she is trying to gain the necessary leg and arm strength to efficiently crawl where they please. Most often, it’s nothing to worry about. In fact, it should be encouraged if your baby is on all fours, as this movement helps gain strength to be able to become more mobile and meet those movement and developmental milestones. But let’s take a closer look. What should you be made aware of?

    If your baby is rocking back and forth at about 7 months of age and has shown an inclination toward attempting or trying to crawl, this motion is really nothing to worry about. They may stay on all fours or in a sitting position and rock back and forth as they try to determine how to propel themselves forward into a crawling motion. It’s all part of your baby exploring his or her motor skills and trying to develop them further.

    It's a good idea to encourage these movements further. Try placing a toy just out of your baby’s reach and see if he or she can graduate from rocking back and forth to crawling towards the toy.

    Babies may also show this rocking behavior in reaction to external environmental factors, such as if you are encouraging them to move or dance. Babies are limited in their movements due to development, and it's not unusual to see them rock back and forth in an attempt to play. You’ll be able to tell if this is the case by your baby’s reaction and emotion to the movement.

    It's also not uncommon to see rocking back and forth in babies 6 to 9 months old as they try to fall asleep. The rocking motion may provide a soothing feeling to babies, allowing them to ease into a restful state. If the behavior continues past the age of 2, however,  it's best to see your child's pediatrician to ensure there are no developmental abnormalities or other disorders.

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    When baby rocking back and forth can be a reason to worry

    Most rocking is normal. However, there are some signs you should pay attention to.

    If your baby rocks back and forth in a repetitive, trance-like movement, it may be a sign of something else, like autism — particularly if he or she doesn't seem happy while doing it. And while there's no need to panic right away, booking an appointment with your doctor isn’t a bad idea to get everything checked out and make sure your little one is going through the proper developmental milestones in a timely manner.

    If your baby rocks back and forth and bangs his or her head into a wall frequently and with intensity, this may be a sign of developmental disorders or conditions, especially if it isn’t limited to nighttime activity. If your baby shows signs of this throughout the day, talk to his or her doctor to determine what exactly is going on and see if further testing may be required.

    Of course, rocking back and forth may also mean that your baby is upset about something. At this age, he or she doesn’t have the capacity to show it in any other way. When you notice this rocking behavior, it's important to look at it in context of what's going on around the baby and how the baby seems to feel. If you have concerns, talk to the pediatrician to put them at ease.

    How to manage baby rocking back and forth

    Usually, this type of behavior gradually goes away. It may also be your baby’s way of trying to seek out your attention. If you suspect this is the case, do not pay any attention to it and he or she will eventually stop.

    If your child does this sort of behavior in bed, try to keep the crib or bed slightly away from the wall. This will ensure it doesn't bang on the wall and cause any harm to your child. Also, be sure that there are no hazards inside the crib.

    If your baby is nearing the crawling stage and your notice him or her rocking back and forth while on all fours or in a sitting position, you should encourage this further. He or she is well on the way to meeting proper motor milestones and is getting ready to move!

    As previously mentioned, if you are concerned about your baby's development, seek advice from your doctor. They know you and your baby best, and will be able to help diagnose any possible disorders or conditions (or eliminate these possibilities).

    It's completely natural for parents to worry about seemingly unusual movements or actions that children are participating in. By looking into what’s really going on, you’re doing the responsible thing. If there is a developmental disorder, it’s best to find out early on so that you can help your child in any way he or she may need.

    History of updates

    Current version (03 February 2022)

    Medically reviewed by Dr. Anna Targonskaya, Obstetrician and gynecologist

    Published (10 June 2019)

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