Eye rolling is a common phenomenon that many people do involuntarily. However, when you see a baby rolling eyes, you may feel concerned about a possible health problem. Nevertheless, most babies and infants may roll their eyes on a normal basis without any underlying causes of concern.
However, you may seek medical care if your baby’s eye-rolling movements become too frequent and they begin to display any signs of neurological disorders.
Explore more about the possible causes, signs and symptoms, warning signs, and facts to remember about eye-rolling in babies.
Why Do Babies Roll Their Eyes While Sleeping?
Babies may roll their eyes since their eye muscles and the visual system are not yet completely developed. Eyesight and control over eye muscles gradually develop in babies over time (1). According to Daniel Boyer, MD, specialized in molecular biology, histology, pharmacologyiXThe study that deals with the interaction of drugs on living organisms , and embryology, to name a few, “Babies roll their eyes because it is one of their natural reflexes. When babies stop rolling their eyes, it means that they have developed enough control over their muscles to keep their eyes focused in the same direction. This typically happens around six months.”
Eye rolling tends to happen during the transitional time between sleep and wakefulness. You may often notice eye-rolling when they fall asleep or while breastfeeding. It can be slow, repeated opening and closing, or blinking of the eyes. While breastfeeding does not cause eye-rolling in babies, most moms often observe their little ones close their eyes during nursing sessions.
Neurological disorders, head injuries, hypoglycemiaiXA condition where the blood sugar level in the body is below the normal range (low blood sugar), fever, etc. may cause seizure-related eye-rolling in many babies. Younger babies may roll their eyes since they have poor eye muscle control and developing brain functions. Whereas, it could be more likely due to pathology in a ten-month-old baby who has developed reasonable control over the eye muscles.
Warning Signs And Symptoms In A Baby Rolling Eyes
Eye rolling can be normal in many circumstances. There won’t be any signs of behavioral or physical changes in babies who have normal eye movements. But, pathological eye roll may also be associated with other symptoms depending on the brain’s affected area or the problem with the visual system. Po-Chang Hsu, MD, a medical content expert at SleepingOcean.com, says, “Eye-rolling could be a sign of disorders, such as nystagmusiXA term for rapid, unrestrained eye movements , strabismusiXA condition where neither of the eyes points in the same direction , seizures, and cerebral palsy. However, parents should remember that eye-rolling doesn’t always mean an underlying issue. They should only be concerned if such eye movements are accompanied by symptoms, such as shivering, convulsionsiXFast and rhythmic shaking, with muscles tightening and relaxing frequently , uncontrolled crying, body jerkiness, trembling, increased irritability, irregular breathing, or any unusual changes in the baby’s behavior.”
So, if you notice your baby rolling eyes often, watch out for signs of neurological disorders such as infantile spasms (West syndrome). According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), West syndrome affects 1 in 2,000 children, typically beginning between 2 and 12 months of age.
Some warning signs of serious illnesses that may cause eye-rolling in infants may include (2):
- Limb stiffening
- Irregular breathing
- Increased irritability
- Jerky body movements or convulsions
- Prolonged crying
These can be seizure symptoms in babies, and they may often require special care to avoid head injuries or other traumas during the seizure. However, Dr. Boyer clarifies, “A seizure is a medical condition that occurs when there is a sudden, brief change in how your brain’s electrical signals work. These changes can affect your body and brain’s normal functions, causing symptoms that can be mild to severe.
Rolling your eyes may not be a sign of a seizure because there is no uniform interpretation of what eye-rolling may mean. However, eye-rolling seizures can involve a person’s eyeballs.”
Eye movements not seen as normal include eyes that look only to one side and seem to be ‘stuck’ that side or eyes jerking from side to side constantly and not just associated with falling asleep or feeding.
What To Do If A Baby Rolls Eyes?
Frequent observation is required to determine whether eye-rolling is severe or not. You may keep a log of the number of times eye-rolling occurs and any associated symptoms. Daily records on the baby’s eye-rolling habit can be useful for diagnosis.
If possible, take a recording of the event on your phone. It sometimes comes in handy when the healthcare provider is seeing the baby when the eye movements are not happening.
A seizure can be due to fever, infections, or epilepsy disorder in babies. Seek immediate medical care to diagnose the cause.
When To Consult A Doctor
Consult your baby’s pediatrician if you notice abnormal eye-rolling in your baby. If you are concerned or suspect infantile seizure, discuss with your doctor to diagnose the causes.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why do babies move their eyes from side to side rapidly?
Babies may move their eyes side to side in the initial months after birth for diverse reasons. However, in rare scenarios, repetitive and rapid side-to-side or circular eye movements could be seen in babies with nystagmus, which may be congenitaliXExisting before or since birth or acquired (3).
2. Do newborns have weird eye movements?
Yes, sometimes a newborn may display various eye movements, such as rolling or rotating their eyes. Moreover, in some cases, you may notice that your baby’s eyes may seem crossed, squinted, or atypical during the first three months after birth (4). Babies may stare or gaze with wide eyes until they develop a proper field of vision. Though this could be viewed as normal, you may consult a doctor if you persistently suspect any abnormalities in your baby’s eye movements.
3. What does it mean when a child’s eyes roll back?
Babies may roll their eyes back when they are sleepy or falling asleep. However, if you notice other symptoms (such as fever, increased heart rate, or breathing difficulties) with their eyes rolling to the back or side, they may be experiencing a febrile or tonic seizure. Such symptoms may need immediate medical attention (5) (7).
4. Can teething cause a baby to roll their eyes?
There is no evidence to suggest that teething causes eye-rolling in babies. Hence, if you notice unusual eye movements, such as eye-rolling in your baby during the teething phase, consult a physician for guidance to rule out any underlying issues.
Eye rolling in babies may not always be serious. You may find them rolling their eyes when they are sleepy or breastfeeding. So, the behavior may be a transition phase between sleep and wakefulness. However, eye rolling might also be seizure-related. It may sometimes indicate head injuries, neurological disorders, or hypoglycemia. It may also indicate poor eye muscle control or still-developing brain functions. Irrespective of the cause, the condition should not be ignored. If they exhibit symptoms such as shivering, limb stiffening, or irritability, consult your doctor for treatment options.
Infographic: Normal And Abnormal Causes Of Infant Rolling Eyes
Although infants display a range of eye movements, including rolling their eyes often for benign reasons, sometimes it could indicate an underlying medical problem. Explore the infographic below to learn the normal and abnormal causes behind a baby rolling their eyes.
- Underdeveloped eye muscle control or gradually falling asleep while breastfeeding can prompt babies to roll their eyes.
- It is a normal phenomenon, but additional symptoms such as body stiffening, abnormal breathing, or convulsions may indicate a neurological issue.
- Observe the pattern and alarming signs, if any, and consult your doctor for timely diagnosis and treatment.
Is it normal that my newborn baby often rolls her eyes and shakes? Alleviate your worries by watching this video, which provides valuable insights into this behavior and the treatment you can look out for.
2. Infantile Spasms Symptoms and Diagnosis; The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center
3. Nystagmus; NHS Foundation Trust.
4. Looking at Your Newbornl: What’s Normal; Kids Health
5. Is It Normal for a Newborn’s Eyes to Roll Back in Their Head?; Wonder baby
6. Early detection of seizures in infants crucial to brain development; University of Chicago Medicine
7. Seizures-Generalized; Nationwide Children’s Hospital