Is A Baby Tilting Head To Shoulder Teething Or Is It Something Else?

If you notice that your baby’s head is leaning to one side, you are not alone. Many children develop this lean as infants. Some will do so long-term while others only do so when there is a deeper problem. So is a baby tilting head to shoulder teething or dealing with something else? This guide will go through some of the possible issues and what to expect.

Why Is My Baby’s Head Tilted To One Side?

To answer the question of why a baby’s head tilts to one side, you need to look at some of the different factors. For a start is this a regular lean to the side, or is it sudden when they normally hold their head up properly? Also, are they in any notable pain with additional symptoms, or are they pretty quiet and unbothered?

Babies with regular lean and no pain may be dealing with a form of torticollis. You can learn more about this issue below, the different forms, and what you can do about it. Babies with a more sudden lean with additional pain and discomfort may be dealing with an ear infection or teething issues. It can be difficult to tell the two apart but, again, you can learn more about this below.

Hopefully, by the end of this, you will have a better idea of why your child’s head leans to the side and what to do next.

Why Does My Baby Lean To The Side?

First, we need to look at those cases where babies show a more regular lean to one side. This may not come with any other signs of pain or discomfort, but you just know that something isn’t right. The concern here is that this improper posture could affect their development as they grow. One of the most likely causes is torticollis.

Congenital Muscular Torticollis.

Torticollis is a condition that affects the muscles of the neck, impacting the way that a child moves their head. With Congenital Muscular Torticollis, the problem arises from birth. A knot of tangled fibers in the neck shortens the muscle on one side and results in a natural lean to one side. The knot will have formed in the womb if the child was in an unnatural position, and this isn’t uncommon with breech births.

Acquired Torticollis.

As the name suggests, there will be kids that develop this after birth and you might not realize this until they begin to gain more control over their neck muscles and hold their heads up. Interestingly, 75% of babies lean to the right. You can tell if this is the problem by testing your baby’s ability to turn their head and feeling for a soft lump that indicates that knot of fibers.

How Can You Care For Your Child With Torticollis At Home?

Whatever the cause of this knot in one side of the neck, you can help your child to correct the problem and strengthen the muscles. The good news here is that your child is unlikely to be in pain with this condition, it just may make movement more uncomfortable. So, there is no worry about dealing with pain medication or any invasive treatments at home. Some exercises can help and you can work with your child at home to see some great results, so talk to your doctor about the best options for your child.

However, you may find it easier to take them to a pediatric physiotherapist for better support and a more clinical approach. While this may be less appealing for your child, it gives you the peace of mind that they are in the best hands. You don’t run the risk of doing something wrong or straining the muscles. You can also direct the blame for any discomfort or distress onto the professional.

Whichever approach you take, you should find that the condition improves in around 6 months or so. Be patient with it and try and catch it as early as possible for the best results.

What is Klippel-Feil Syndrome?

The other possible cause of a baby tilting head to shoulder is Klippel-Feil Syndrome. This isn’t that common, with an estimated 1 in 40,000 kids developing the disorder. Here, the problem is skeletal rather than muscular. The child is born with a fusion of two or more vertebrae. This may not be obvious until later on in their development when you see the lean and restrictive movement. However, these babies can exhibit a shorter broader neck, and lower hairline.

What Causes A Baby To Tilt-Head To Shoulder?

The issues of torticollis and Klippel-Feil Syndrome are just one side of the story. There will be times when a baby tilts their head to their shoulder out of nowhere and shows signs of discomfort. This will be more sudden and sporadic than the more regular issues of babies that lean to one side. There are two factors to consider here – teething and ear infections. So, what else should you look out for and how can you tell the difference between the two?

Babies Pulling On Their Ears.

In addition to the head tilting to one side, you might also see your child pulling at their ears. This could be an indication that there is something wrong. The main reason for this is that pulling on the ear reduces the pressure on the ear canal and gum, which can in turn relieve the pain of both teething and ear infections. Or course, this doesn’t help in determining the cause, but it is a good sign to watch out for.

That said, there will be times when babies pull on their ears and nothing is wrong. They are exploring the world around them to learn about themselves and their environment. This involves a lot of touching and grabbing at interesting objects on mobiles and other toys to aid with motor function. It makes sense for them to wonder what the weird fleshy things on the side of their head are too. The problem here is that you can get them jamming fingers and other things in there, increasing the risk of pain and infections.

Is A Baby Tilting from Head To Shoulder Teething Or Dealing With An Ear Infection?

Unfortunately, ear infections in children are pretty common and you can assume that your baby will get one at some point. The ear canal is small and it is easy for water to get trapped inside. You might ask what you can do to prevent this, but it isn’t easy. We know to keep water out of our own ears to dry them off as best we can when bathing, showering, or spending time in a pool. This isn’t so easy for babies that may enjoy splashing around or poking their ear with a wet finger. You also aren’t going to get in there to dry it out.

The problem with babies and ear infections is that you can’t always tell if it is an ear infection or something else. That is because the connections between the baby’s facial features are such that they can feel pain and discomfort around their ears when they are actually dealing with some other illness or teething problems. They will grow out of both teething and ear infections with time. Until then, you have the hard task of deciphering what you are dealing with. The added problem here is the communication barrier between babies and adults. They are fussy and crying for something and in need of comfort and relief, but where?

There are some shared symptoms between ear infections and teething to watch out for. They are probably going to be in a pretty bad mood for much of the day either way because of the frustration and discomfort. This may lead to them becoming clingy, where they don’t want to be put down and left alone. They may also struggle with their appetite and ability to fall asleep. Another sign to watch out for is excessive drool and/or mucus. You might assume that the drool indicates teething and the mucus an infection, but it can be one or the other. Don’t assume that the problem has to be an ear infection if there is no obvious sign of teeth coming through. The discomfort can begin long before you start to see anything because of the activity beneath the gums.

The best thing to do if you do suspect an ear infection is to take their temperature, they can often run high temperatures when dealing with infections. You should also test their balance and hearing. You may appreciate yourself that slightly lop-sided feeling when you have a blocked ear. Babies may struggle with their balance, in turn leading to them leaning over. Hearing tests are also a good idea as a swollen ear may restrict their hearing and their reactions to noises.

What Can You Do To Treat Ear Infections?

A good starting point is pain medication for the fever, rest, hydration, and temperature controls. You should never try and clean the ear out because you risk further damage and problems. You can try and keep it dry by being extra careful in baths and avoiding other water sources. wait a couple of days for it to go away on its own. If not, seek help.

If you are concerned about your child showing signs of any of the issues here, seek medical advice. Your pediatrician will be able to advise you on what you need to do after giving your child a check-up. They can offer support for teething, suitable medication for ear infections, and the right pain relief. They may even be able to help with any sleep issues that arise as a result of these problems.


Let’s go over some of those important questions again so you know what you are dealing with here.

1) Why does my baby tilt her head to her shoulder?

The short answer is that kids tilt their heads to their shoulders when they are dealing with imbalances and discomfort in the ear and face. There is a good chance that they have an ear infection or are teething, so you then need to figure out which it is and seek appropriate care.

2) Is head tilting normal in babies?

Head tilting isn’t abnormal, but it depends on the condition and the child. Torticollis isn’t super rare, but not that likely unless there are complications in their birth and early development. Ear infections are a lot more comment so occasional head-tilting for that is quite likely, as is ear pulling. Of course, all babies will exhibit signs of teething at some point.

3) How do I know if my baby has an ear infection or is teething?

It is a shame that our kids don’t have a more obvious way to tell us exactly what is wrong. You can judge by additional symptoms, such as a high fever or more obvious discomfort around the ear than the mouth. But, you could end up dealing with either, or indeed both.

Give it a couple of days to see how things progress and provide soothing aids and comfort. If it doesn’t ease, go for a check-up with your doctor.

Is My Baby Tilting Head To Shoulder Teething, Suffering An Infection, Or Dealing With Neck Issues?

Hopefully, one of the answers here will prove to be the solution to your concerns about your child. There is a good chance that those suddenly tilting the head onto their shoulder are dealing with teething issues or a short-lived ear infection. Either is easily treatable and kids will grow out of them.

Long-term leans to one side are a little different and require more long-term care and support over a series of months. But, at least it isn’t painful and you can correct it. Get to know your baby’s symptoms, feel for that potential knot in the side of the neck, and make sure to seek professional advice whenever necessary.




This post is written and edited by Sandy who is a clinical pharmacist with over 20 years of experience specializing in pre-natal and post-natal care.