Why Babies Arch Their Backs: Understanding the Reasons

When a baby is born, so is a parent. As the baby explores the world, the parent also learns to decipher the various gestures, postures, and moods of the baby. Crying is one of the primary forms of a baby’s communication and is pretty normal. However, it might seem alarming when a baby is arching back while crying. While it could be normal, it’s better to be more observant of other signs and symptoms to rule out anything concerning. To give you more perspective on the same, we have listed down the causes and immediate steps you can take to help ease the baby right away.

Causes of Baby Arching Back

A baby arching back and crying is often indicative of some pain or discomfort it might be going through. New parents might sometimes find the baby arching back in sleep or while feeding. While it is a fairly common occurrence when the baby is tired, overstimulated, or excited, it is important to be aware of all the possible reasons to be able to address the situation appropriately.

  1. Gas
  2. For newborns, as they get used to digesting milk, gas and reflux are common issues. The baby may stretch its arms and legs, arching the back to help find a comfortable position that eases the discomfort. If you find your baby doing that after each feed, gas pain is the most likely reason. While this is nothing to worry about, if it is causing a lot of distress to the baby, you might like to rule out lactose intolerance and other food allergies as the baby gets older.

  3. Reflux
  4. You might also find your baby arching back and crying along with some vomiting. This hints at GERD (gastroesophageal reflux) or acid reflux. This is when the immature digestive system propels the food out in the reverse direction. Again this is pretty common with infants and nothing to worry about. It helps to be aware that GERD can be associated with a rare movement disorder called Sandifer syndrome marked by the baby arching back and turning head for about 2-3 minutes. However, this condition eases itself out with proper treatment for GERD.

  5. Colic
  6. Colic pain is another common occurrence with newborns while their digestion gets adjusted. This, however, may seem concerning, as the baby might cry inconsolably for up to 3 hours or more throughout the day. Along with arching their backs with high-pitched crying, babies might stretch and stiffen their arms and legs while clenching their fists. It might seem distressing and exhausting for both the baby and parents, but this phase usually outgrows itself by 3-4 months.

  7. Developmental milestones
  8. Once babies get acquainted with their hands and legs, they try to figure out more about their body trying to push and move around. That is when they may start to arch their back in an attempt to roll over. It is then that tummy time becomes so important to encourage the baby to find that space and surface to develop its muscles and movements. Their core, neck, and back muscles get strengthened as they roll over, lift their head, and try to move further, exploring new territories and toys around them.

  9. Emotional outlet
  10. Babies tend to stretch themselves and arch their backs in an attempt to resist or deny something they are not comfortable with. This could happen when they are overstimulated and exhausted, but don’t want to be held or fed. They might need to change positions to help calm themselves down. They might arch their back and push with their legs to free themselves out. Infants can also arch their back as a startle reflex in response to sudden loud noise or change in position. The baby usually outgrows this by 2 to 4 months old.

  11. Temper tantrums
  12. Back arching can also be seen in little older babies till about 2 years, when they express their anger or frustration, arching their back and throwing their heads back. These “temper tantrums” can happen anytime anywhere they get upset and express that through crying, whining, or even thrashing about. Babies that age try to figure out their various emotions associated with hunger, play, discomfort, and surprise change in surroundings, and try to convey it through these tantrums. It is important to identify the triggers and work on them accordingly while making sure the baby doesn’t hurt itself at the peak of such tantrums.

  13. Neurological conditions
  14. While it is a common occurrence for babies to arch their back in the various common situations mentioned above, sometimes it may hint at certain neurological disorders like cerebral palsy, autism, and seizures. However, this is only when back arching is also associated with other tell-tale symptoms of the respective conditions. In such a case, it is always advisable to seek medical help to ensure proper diagnosis and care of the baby.

How to Handle the Baby When Arching Back

The first natural response when you see your baby in such distress is often to panic and worry. However, you must realise that you need to keep yourself calm and handle the baby with utmost patience and care to be able to ease the discomfort.

  1. Identify the trigger:
  2. It is important to first and foremost try and identify the trigger that might have led to the baby being uncomfortable. Is it hunger, overstimulation, fatigue, change in environment, too much loud noise, or even too many people around? Once you understand the trigger, you may then act accordingly to help ease the pain for your child.

  3. Relax the baby:
  4. Hold your baby close and see if that helps calm down the uneasiness. Sometimes all you need to do is take the baby to another room which is quieter and free of distractions. All the baby might need is some alone unstimulated time with you. A safe space for it to unwind. You can gently touch and massage the baby playfully to help ease relax the muscles and reduce the back arching.

  5. Ensure comfortability:
  6. Also, check whether the baby is wet and if the clothing is comfortable. Some babies can be sensitive to the fabric or tags of the clothing. Make sure that the baby is not overdressed or underdressed as per the weather and temperature.

  7. Divert attention:
  8. It is a very important and handy trick to help calm the baby while arching their back. Diverting their attention to their favourite music, sound, or toy, may help reduce the restlessness and ease the irritation.

  9. Baby-proof the surroundings:
  10. Make sure the baby is lying on a comfortable surface. If you find the baby arching back only at a particular place like the bed or sofa, then consider changing the mattress for a more comfortable one. Also, make sure the edges and corners are all baby-proof around the house to avoid injuries and distress for the growing baby.

  11. Observe patterns:
  12. Try and be aware of any patterns in time, situation, or other symptoms associated with the baby arching the back. This would help you track the root cause and seek timely medical intervention in case of other underlying concerns.

When to Call a Doctor

If you are aware and observant of your baby’s triggers and behaviour while arching the back, you may be able to rule out anything concerning. Look out for the below signs and symptoms to help you decide when to seek medical attention.

  • Prolonged and persistent crying beyond 3 hours
  • Other signs of pain or injury
  • Throwing up on each feeding
  • Refusing to feed
  • Not urinating enough
  • Sudden difficulty in latching or swallowing
  • Seizures
  • Swelling or tenderness
  • Continued stiffness
  • Unstable movement
  • Change in posture
  • Jerking or muscle spasms

A baby arching the back and crying is usually a part of the growing phase of the infant that it outgrows as its neural and digestive muscles begin to strengthen. However, it is always better to be vigilant about the triggers and other signs of uneasiness to be able to help our baby out in the best possible way.

More often than not, a baby arching its back is a part and parcel of its natural and healthy development. Make sure that you don’t panic and keep your calm to be able to care for your child the right way. For more information or guidance on baby developments and milestones, you can visit the Eurokids website, and keep yourself well-equipped with all the required knowledge for your new parenting journey.

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