Baby Arching Back

Find causes, how to stop it and reasons not to worry if you spot your baby arching their back.
Last updated: July 4, 2019

When a baby exhibits an arched back, their back (or more specifically spine) is in a strange and often uncomfortable looking way. It can be a cause for concern to parents, this article aims to help shed some light on why babies may be arching their back and whether or not you should seek a professional medical opinion or not.

Before you begin reading this article on arching backs please remember that this should not be used as medical advice and you should always do what you feel is best with advice of medical professionals. If in doubt, call your GP or visit your local health service.

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As parents to young babies, and especially as first time parents, we often find ourselves overanalysing every sound and action our baby makes. When it comes to smiles, coos and giggles we absolutely love it. Our babies can not communicate with us- so when they display a positive sign it’s fabulous and reassuring. However, when they are expressing odd behaviour or they seem in distress then that’s when we begin to worry.

What is a baby arched back?

The description of baby arching their back is when they are bending in such a way that there is a clear arch in their back which looks unnatural and almost as if the baby is straining or stretching. The best way to describe this act and for you to understand if what you’re researching is what’s discussed here is to look at some images.

Baby-Arching-Back

In general, a baby should be arching their back in this way for a reason and be accompanied by other actions. You may want to seek medical advice if your baby appears to be in this position without any other activity such as wriggling or making noises or crying.

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Is it normal for a baby to be arching their back?

Normal behaviour for a baby is difficult if not impossible to define. Every baby is completely different- even for parents of multiple children they will all comment on how each differed as a baby. They are, at the end of the day, individuals with their own personalities and traits. However, in the context of an arched back we would probably say that it is not normal behaviour and it is likely to be a symptom of another issue. What we mean by that is that baby’s arching their back is a normal response to a not-normal cause. In this section we discuss the different reasons why a baby may be arching their back and at the end we’ll list some things to consider to try and solve the problem.

Again, we at Best For Mums want to reiterate that this should not be used under any circumstances as medical advice – so please consult a medical professional if you have genuine concerns.

In what way can babies arch their backs?

This is a list of time when babies have been observed arching their backs:

  • While lying down
  • While wriggling
  • While asleep
  • Arching back and crying

In our opinion from speaking with mothers who have experienced this and doing research online, the most common time a baby will have an unnatural arch in their back is when they’re lying down and crying with what looks like discomfort.

Are any of these familiar? Does your baby arch their back in a different way that we haven’t mentioned? Why not let us know in the comments so that we can keep this article up to date.

Causes of babies arching their backs.

This is the section most people are probably looking for. Perhaps you’ve got a baby who is exhibiting this behaviour and you’re really worried it could be something serious. Well, try not to worry. In an overwhelming amount of cases babies arching their back was a short phase they went through with no serious issues. Many issues which resulted in their baby to arch their back could be solved without any medical intervention at all which is why we say not to worry. However, for the sake of being the best article online on the subject of baby arching backs we wanted to list every known cause of this phenomenon. Let’s start!

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Frustration

One of the most common reasons a baby may arch their back their back is because of frustration. Perhaps your baby is uncomfortable and wants something such as food, sleep, a change of nappy or just a change of scenery. They are really trying to communicate but can’t get the message across and they struggle to deal with that frustration properly which results in an over the top reaction such as curving their spine and crying.

In all honesty, babies arching their back out of frustration is probably caused out of escalation – the likelihood is that they’ve been exhibiting signs of frustration for a while now and their needs have not been met. Don’t worry or feel bad about this as it’s baby’s being frustrated is common and can’t be avoided but it’s important to remember sings of frustration to avoid it in the future.

Colic

Every parent will have heard about what colic is and how it can make babies feel. It’s a somewhat common occurrence for babies who are less than 3 months old and particularly in bottle fed babies (although there is still no proven cause). Arching their backs is just one of a few different reactions babies can have along with clenched fists and drawing their legs up to their tummy and of course prolonged tummy. This isn’t the article to give an in depth explanation to colic and how to treat it, however what’s clear is that colic is a very uncomfortable thing to go through and babies arching their backs can be a natural response to try and deal with it.

If your baby is visually uncomfortable which may or may not include arching their back while  crying for more than 3 hours a day, 3 days a week for 3 weeks in a row and they’re not suffering from a fever, vomiting and diarrhoea then the most likely cause is colic.

Acid Reflux

It is very common for babies to bring up their milk, especially when they are bottle fed and parents should not be concerned when it happens. However, acid reflux or GERD is not so common and can cause a baby severe discomfort which can result in them arching their back as a coping method for the pain. GERD, an acronym for gastrointestinal reflux disease presents itself as vomiting repetitively while bringing up more than milk such as the stomach acid.

Along with an arched back, acid reflux can be accompanied by a lack of appetite, coughing and wheezing, heartburn and regurgitation. The key symptom to look for isn’t an arched back it is the frequent vomiting – if your baby has their back arched and crying but isn’t vomiting frequently then it is unlikely to be acid reflux.

The cause of acid reflux in babies is usually an undeveloped gastrointestinal tract which will often correct itself with time and natural growth. Our best advice, as always, is to seek qualified medical advice on how to treat this.

Autism

Some studies have suggested that a baby that arches their back (along with a wide variety of other symptoms) when they are being held, cuddled or picked up could be an early sign of autism.

For very young babies this sign could be meaningless as it is their social and language skills that are better indicators of autism. However, if you notice your baby arching their back when they are being cuddled or in social situations, we feel the next best step is to take a closer look at the way they are in other social situations and take it from there.

Kernicterus/Jaundice

Untreated jaundice can cause a condition called kernicterus which leads to brain damage. Kernicterus can cause babies to arch their backs and cry as a direct result of brain damage. If a baby has severe jaundice it can lead to increased bilirubin in the body can cause brain damage which can sadly result in uncontrollable convulsions and yep you guessed it, an arched back as they deal with the pain and frustration. Granted, if your baby did have jaundice you would know about it long before and after they arch their backs so if they are arching their backs and don’t have jaundice then it’s not going to be caused by kernicterus.

This is an issue which is more prevalent for newborns and younger babies as this is the most common time to have jaundice. Your health visitor should be making regular checks for jaundice during their visits but if you do have concerns then seek medical help immediately.

Rumination disorder

Rumination disorder is quite a rare eating disorder which usually occurs in infants between 3 months old and 12 months old. It is a term to describe a baby constantly regurgitating food from the stomach and then rechewing the same food. It is a rather disturbing disorder to say the least which can lead to highly unusual physical movements such as an arching back, straining and baby throwing their head back along with what you’d expect with a baby with an eating disorder – weight loss, bad breath, stomach aches and raw, chapped lips.

The most common causes of rumination disorder are things you will have spotted way before you notice the arched back. Emotional neglect is one of the leading causes as it leads to stress, anxiety and depression and forces a way for the baby to self-comfort (chewing). Chances are if your baby was suffering from rumination disorder you probably wouldn’t be on this website right now.

Sleep apnea

If your baby is arching his back and tilting his head backwards while sleeping and sometimes waking up violently crying then perhaps they may be suffering from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is an obstruction in the upper respiratory and arching their back is a way to relieve it. This is an involuntary act to allow smooth breathing during deep sleep.

You can actually see this sort of behaviour in adults who may have untreated sleep apnea.

Anyway, If you see a distinct arched back and tilted head by your little one during sleep then sleep apnea is the most likely cause and can be treated by a medical professional with either medication or surgery, so see your local GP or health visitor if you have concerns.

Nerve Damage

Nerve damage as a cause for an arched back is a tricky one as nerve damage can cause all sorts of problems big and small. Plus, nerve damage is not the sort of thing that can happen without you knowing about it. A difficult birth is the most common cause of nerve damage. Was your baby born face first or by having it’s arms or legs pulled? It could be the reason for nerve damage and the physical effects that follow from that such as an arched back or difficulty maintaining proper posture. The pressure of the difficult birth can cause a lot of physical problems early on and one of those is an arched back which can be spotted when they are sitting up.

If you remember having a difficult birth and you notice these symptoms now then contact your local health professional as soon as possible as early treatment can be crucial to resolving the problem.

Cerebral palsy

If your baby seems to be arching their back without trying to do it themselves then this could be caused by a neurological condition called cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy leads to a number of neurological and motor function problems and your baby may find it difficult to move normally and often their body may move involuntarily and unnaturally.

Cerebral palsy is a condition which is commonly caused during a difficult childbirth and it is unlikely that you won’t have been aware of your baby having cerebral palsy before you start seeing arched backs. However, you can use this knowledge to understand that if your baby has cerebral palsy and an arched back than is likely the cause and not any of the other points in this article.

Conclusion and how to use this article

It’s very rare for babies arching their backs to be anything serious and our advice for you on the matter is to not worry and relax. Everyone knows that seeking medical advice online can often lead to unnecessary stress and that goes for our article, too! However, it’s fair to say that babies arching their backs regularly is not normal and if you do see it happen on a regular basis then it’s time to close your computer and seek qualified medical advice.

If you’ve experienced a baby with an arched back and crying why not let other mothers reading this article know by writing your experiences in the comments below.

Thanks for reading,

The Best For Mums Team

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