As your baby is exploring movement and new ways to play, you may find them exhibiting behaviors that are unexpected or concerning. For instance, some babies like to hang upside down. Is this standard play or a red flag?
There are many reasons why a baby may like hanging upside down. This behavior is sometimes related to under-stimulation and developmental disorders but, more often, has to do with play and exploration. When done safely, hanging upside down can actually help your little one develop their vestibular system, which controls balance and movement.
Read on to learn more about why babies like to hang upside down and when you should be concerned.
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Why does my baby want to hang upside down?
A baby may like to hang upside down for a number of reasons. Assessing their overall demeanor may give clues as to why they are exhibiting this behavior.
In most cases, your baby wanting to hang upside down is purely for play. Going upside down allows your baby to see the world from a new perspective, it gives them a rush of adrenaline, and it’s fun. If your baby likes being upside down but also enjoys less active forms of play (e.g. reading, doing puzzles, watching television), this is probably not a red flag.
If your little one has difficulty regulating their behaviors and emotions, struggles with sedentary activities, and is constantly seeking movement, they may be under-stimulated. Hanging upside sends a lot of sensory input to the vestibular system, which responds to movement. This can be calming for babies who are under-stimulated.
Under-stimulation is sometimes associated with developmental disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). For children who struggle with under-stimulation, it takes more sensory input to experience the rush and excitement that typically developed children experience with play. This leaves these children craving physical activity.
Baby likes to hang head back
Similar to hanging upside down, your baby may be hanging their head back just for fun.
This gives them a new view of the world, and it’s a movement they can do all on their own. This can be especially exciting when it’s first discovered.
If your baby seems uncomfortable as they are throwing their head back, they may be experiencing reflux. Babies with reflux may arch their back and throw their heads backward to alleviate symptoms of reflux. Reflux occurs when the contents of the stomach move back up the esophagus; it is common and not typically cause for concern.
Like hanging upside down, throwing their heads back is a way to get vestibular stimulation, and is sometimes associated with ASD and SPD.
Why do babies like to hang upside down?
There are many reasons why a baby may like to hang upside down.
They may be enjoying the change of perspective or acting out a natural curiosity about their bodies and the world around them. They may have more energy than they know what to do with, or they may even be channeling that energy into finding a relaxing position.
Though it is sometimes associated with developmental issues, it is common with typically developed babies.
Babies like a change of perspective
Hanging upside down might be an exciting discovery for babies who enjoy the change in perspective.
Whether they find it funny or fascinating, this behavior is not abnormal for a typically developing child.
Babies are learning their bodies and their environment
As babies are experimenting with movement and balance, they may discover hanging upside down is an exciting new trick.
This exploration is normal for babies. When done safely, it can be good for their bodily awareness.
Babies have energy to burn
If a baby is not getting sufficient exercise, they may seek highly stimulating physical activity when they are able to play.
Hanging upside down provides a lot of sensory input that can help satisfy babies that have been inactive.
Some toddlers find the position relaxing
Hanging upside down can be calming to some children, especially if they struggle with regulating stimulation.
This behavior is sometimes associated with ASD and SPD; however, many yoga experts consider inversions to be calming and beneficial for the nervous system.
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)
Children with SPD experience sensory stimulation differently than most children. This can also be seen in children with ASD.
If your baby is struggling with under-stimulation, they may seek additional sensory input by hanging upside down.
For instance, a child might have difficulty sitting still to watch television, but hanging upside down off the couch and watching television might provide balance.
Is it safe for a baby to hang upside down?
Since every baby develops at their own pace, there are no clear guidelines for when inversions are safe for babies.
If a baby’s neck muscles are not developed enough, they may become injured. Similarly, if they are not strong enough to support their own limbs, this can lead to joint damage.
Though some chiropractors use inversion techniques on very young babies. This is a controversial practice that is best left to the experts.
If you are concerned about whether your baby is safe to be upside down, consult your pediatrician. They will be able to assess your baby’s readiness based on their individual strength and development.
What are the benefits of hanging upside down?
Here are some ways hanging upside down can beneficial to your little one:
- Strengthen the vestibular system – this system reacts to motion and can be related to communication, attention, arousal, and behavior.
- Fitness – hanging upside down can help strengthen muscles and increase flexibility.
- Endorphin rush – often cited as a benefit of yoga, inversions release endorphins that can help improve an individual’s mood.
- Improve back pain – this is a popular method of stretching that takes the pressure off the lower back.
Vestibular seeking behaviors
Your child may want to hang upside down because they are seeking sensory stimulation.
Though many people are familiar with the five senses, there are actually eight senses that are involved in sensory processing:
- Olfactory – smell
- Gustatory – taste
- Auditory – sound
- Visual – site
- Tactile – touch
- Proprioceptive – body positioning
- Vestibular – balance and movement
- Interoceptive – internal (e.g. hunger)
Hanging upside down is one way a child may seek vestibular stimulation. The fluid-filled inner ear is essential to the vestibular system with the movement of the fluid acting as a sensor to signal to the brain that the body is in motion. Vestibular stimulation can also be calming, for instance, rocking a baby.
Other forms of vestibular stimulation include:
- Rocking back and forth
- Jumping up and down
- Jumping off furniture
- General hyperactivity
If your little one is seeking vestibular stimulation, find safe activities that will help balance their sensory input:
- Doing yoga (with inversions)
- Rocking on a rocking chair or hammock
- Using a sit-n-spin
- Doing gymnastics
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and hanging upside down
Autism is a developmental disability that can impact communication, cognition, and social and emotional skills. One symptom of ASD is atypical reactions to stimuli.
A child who is easily overstimulated may be extremely cautious and avoid physical activity. In contrast, a child that is under-stimulated will crave movement. If you find that your baby is repeatedly hanging upside down or seeking similar stimulation to regulate themselves, this could be a sign of autism.
Along with traditional screening at well-child visits, it is recommended that children undergo autism screening at 18 and 24 months. Some symptoms may appear earlier or later. Oftentimes, a diagnosis is not made until later in life. If your baby is hanging upside down repeatedly to regulate themselves, here are some other early signs of autism to look for:
- Avoids eye contact
- Does not respond to their name
- Has delayed or regressed speech
- Has poor social skills
- Does not engage in “pretend” play
- Demonstrates difficulty empathizing with others
- Prefers to be alone
- Rocks or spins
- Has low danger awareness or impulsivity
- Becomes easily upset by small changes
- Demonstrates hyperactivity
- Has hyper or hypo-sensitivity to stimuli (pertaining to any of their senses)
- Lines up objects or toys
- Becomes obsessive over their interests
- May be aggressive or prone to meltdowns
- Gives answers that are relevant to questions
- Avoids physical contact
- Exhibits unusual eating and sleeping
- Has a short attention span
- Reverses pronouns; for instance, “you” instead of “I”
- Has extreme or unusual phobias
As you can see, there are many signs that can point toward an autism diagnosis. If your baby is seeking stimulation by hanging upside down, but not demonstrating other behaviors associated with autism, it is unlikely to be a major cause for concern.
If your baby is exhibiting many signs of autism or you are concerned about their development, talk to your pediatrician. You can also take The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-chat) test, which can help determine if your child needs further evaluation.
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and hanging upside down
SPD is a diagnosis given to some children that experience sensory over or under-stimulation, but do not have ASD.
Though sensory symptoms are often seen in children with ASD, not all children who struggle with sensory processing are on the autism spectrum.
Children who struggle with sensory stimulation may have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), other developmental delays and learning difficulties, or no other diagnosis.
If your baby is seeking out behaviors such as hanging upside down to regulate and calm themselves, they may be hyposensitive or under-stimulated. These babies tend to crave movement. It takes more stimulation for them to experience the rush and excitement that typically developed children experience with play.