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As a mom, I completely understand how distressing it can be to see your baby do something that you’re not familiar with, and then try to figure out the reason.
Babies have no way of communicating with us, but we know that when something is out of the ordinary, there’s an underlying cause.
If you notice your baby suddenly arching their back, it can instantly make you wonder what’s going on.
First, take a deep breath. This could be due to quite a few different things. We’re going to go over all of them, including signs, symptoms, and what you can do.
Table of Contents
1. It’s Their Only Way To Talk To You
Babies simply cannot communicate without using their bodies or crying. If your little one is arching their back, it could be because they are trying to tell you something. They more than likely are.
It could because they are in pain, they are uncomfortable, or they are just colicky. Some babies are known for arching their backs when they have gas, and this is your baby’s way of letting you know that their stomach hurts.
It’s important to keep this in mind when you see them arching their back. Now, it’s time to figure out what your little one is trying to say.
My oldest daughter had colic. She would scream for hours, complete with arching her back. I spent hours on the phone with her pediatrician.
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We switched formulas. It seemed like no matter what we did, she was distressed and continued arching her back. Here are some things that I remember trying that might help your baby:
- Running a fan for background noise (a white noise machine might help as well)
- Trying to hold her in different positions
- Patting her back while she laid on her stomach (this works great for gas, but did nothing to soothe her)
A combination of things finally helped my little one.
She liked to be swaddled, did not like onesies with snaps (the snaps get cold, and it turned out later she’s really sensitive to the way things feel), preferred to be held in an upright position against your chest, and wanted to be sung to.
This would instantly soothe her, but it took me quite a while to figure out the perfect combination. Try a combination of things to see if something will soothe your little one.
According to my father, car rides are the ultimate infant soother when a baby has colic. I was young when I had my daughter and did not have a car so I never tried this with my little one. However, he swears by it.
I had colic when I was an infant. He said he would take me for a ride in the car, and I was almost instantly calm. This is also a rather popular method for calming babies with colic, so it’s worth a try.
Most parents, myself included, can find relief in knowing that colic usually goes away on its own. Most babies no longer have colic by the time they are 3-4 months old.
Keep in mind that this timeline does vary. Some babies will have colic until they are 6 months old, and others will be fine by the time they are 2 months old.
When trying to find a solution to colic, it’s important to remember what doesn’t work. According to studies, gripe water does not help with colic.
Car ride simulators also do not seem to improve colic. In studies, they found that they were hardly effective, if at all. Instead, focus on white noise, real car rides, and practicing different ways to hold your little one until the colic stage has passed.
3. Stomach Troubles Will Make Your Baby Arch Their Back
When babies are little, arching their back helps give them more room inside their tiny bodies for their stomach.
Because of this, it can make their stomach feel better if their belly hurts. This could be because they have gas, have eaten too much, or are constipated.
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If your little one has gas, try burping them an extra time or two during feeding times. Make sure that they do not swallow air when they are eating.
Babies that have gas usually find relief when you place them partially on your lap on their stomach. This position puts their butt in the air a little bit, which helps them pass gas easier.
Patting their back in this position can also provide relief. If all else fails, pick up some gas drops.
- No artificial colors or fluid avors
- No alcohol, saccharin or gluten
- Works in minutes
- Safe, gentle relief of gas discomfort
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Babies might stop eating when they are full, but this does not apply to every baby. Sucking on a bottle is soothing, so your little one might take a bottle even though they are tired, or if something else is wrong.
When babies overeat, they tend to be fussy and their stomachs will feel hard. Their belly may also appear larger than it usually does. If this is the case, use your regular soothing techniques until it passes, and try to limit how much your baby eats in the future.
Constipation is another common stomach trouble that will make your little one arch their back. Common signs of constipation include:
- Hard stool
- Stool that is small pellets
- Straining when having a bowel movement
- Crying when passing a bowel movement
- Stomach feels hard
- Not passing a bowel movement as much as they normally do
When babies arch their backs, it can provide temporary relief for stomach pain due to constipation. If your little one is old enough to drink juice, give them a little bit of fruit juice.
Little ones that are on baby food will usually be able to poop after a healthy meal of pears, too. If your newborn baby is constipated, try a gentle stomach massage to get the bowels moving.
An infant massage can also provide relief for all three of these common stomach problems. It can provide relief for pain due to gas and might help your little one relieve gas.
A massage can stimulate the bowels, and help ease the discomfort from overeating. More than anything, a massage is relaxing and soothing. Your little one will instantly feel a touch better because touch can help create a calming effect in babies.
4. Acid Reflux
Babies that have acid reflux experience a lot more than vomiting, which reflux is known for.
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They can also experience stomach cramps, stomach pain, heartburn, indigestion, and their throat can hurt from the acid in the stomach that comes up with the formula or milk.
Your baby might be arching their back because of reflux if they show these other symptoms:
- Crying primarily after feeding
- Frequent spit up or vomiting
- Hard time gaining weight due to the volume of spit-up
Babies that have acid reflux are often hard to settle during and after feeding time. If your little one has these symptoms or has been diagnosed with this condition, try these tips:
- Feed your baby in an upright position, if possible
- Hold your baby in an upright position for 30-60 minutes after eating
- Make sure to burp your baby (having gas or air in the stomach can make symptoms worse)
- Feed them smaller bottles more often
- Add a tiny bit of extra powder to the formula to make it thicker (with your pediatrician’s permission). This can help reduce vomiting.
If these tips do not help your little one, it’s important to talk to your pediatrician. They may have a more serious medical condition or an underdeveloped stomach that will need to be treated.
5. Your Baby Is In Pain
Pain is one of the most common reasons that babies will arch their back while crying. Sometimes, the signs of discomfort are obvious, though, even if we don’t realize it at the time.
Does your little one have a diaper rash? Did you accidentally cut their finger when trimming their nails? Things like this happen and are very common, so don’t feel guilty.
Common things like this could be the reason that your baby is arching their back when they cry. Once the underlying issue is resolved, the back arching should stop on its own.
6. Nerve Damage During Deliver Can Cause Neck And Back Pain
During long and difficult labor, the nerves of the neck and back of your baby can become pinched.
These are usually pinched during normal labor, but most people do not realize it because it’s uncommon to see longer-lasting side effects unless the labor is especially long.
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The pain from this and discomfort will make your little one arch their back. In some circumstances, it can cause a lifelong condition known as Erb’s Palsy.
A hallmark symptom of this disorder is the paralyzation of one arm. If your little one can move both of their arms, they more than likely don’t have it.
7. Infantile Spasms
Some infants have seizures without an underlying diagnosis, and so they are called infantile spasms. These pop up randomly.
Most cases are seen beginning in babies that are about four months old, but there are babies that begin to suffer from infantile spasms when they are only days old. A doctor can both diagnose and treat these seizures.
8. Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a condition that makes it difficult, or impossible, to breathe when asleep. When a baby has apnea and arches its back, it puts the airway in a position that makes it easier for them to breathe.
If you move your baby, you’ll notice that they wake up crying and ultimately wind up back asleep in the same position. Babies that are arching their back due to sleep apnea will mainly do this when they are sleeping.
9. Babies With Autism May Arch Their Back When You Pick Them Up
Although Autism Spectrum Disorder is not usually diagnosed until later, you can spot some early clues in your infant. If your little one does not like to be held, this is one of the early signs of ASD.
They more than likely arch their back when you pick them up because they are trying to resist being held. Other early signs of ASD include:
- Developmental delays
- Language delays
- Makes very little eye contact
- Has difficulty or does not respond to parent’s social cues, such as smiling
Autism can only be diagnosed by a doctor. If your baby exhibits these symptoms, it’s important to speak with your pediatrician about your concerns. It’s also important to note that autism is a spectrum disorder.
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This means that some children may be on one end of the spectrum and display only a few mild symptoms while others may be on the opposite end of the spectrum and display every symptom imaginable.
If your child is only showing one or two symptoms of autism, they can still have autism. That’s why it’s important to get a professional opinion on this one.
10. Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral Palsy is a diagnosis that covers a wide array of disorders that typically have one common symptom: not being able to control your movements.
A baby arching their back, straightening their legs, and tilting their head is common in newborns because this is a reflex. However, in infants with cerebral palsy, the movements do not subside like they usually do in babies and may seem more exaggerated.
This condition can only be diagnosed and treated by a doctor. If you suspect that your little one has cerebral palsy, give your pediatrician a call to either make sure or rule this one out.
Your baby arching their back could be from a number of things, ranging from mild to severe.
Pay attention to when your little one arches their back, and contact their pediatrician if you’re worried, or if you just want to rule out some of the more serious diagnosis.