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As a new parent, you will experience a lot of frustration trying to understand what your baby needs. Is she crying because she wants food? Is she in pain? Does her diaper need to be changed? What is she trying to convey by waving her arms and legs?
Despite the inability to speak, babies find ways to communicate with their parents and express emotions like joy, satisfaction, fear, and anger. However, not all babies communicate in the same way. Learning through observation and experience will help you understand what your baby wants at any given time. This article will help you understand one of the main ways babies communicate with adults – by arching their backs.
What Is Baby Arching?
Babies occasionally arch their back and neck backwards, while raising their hands up. Back arching is often informative of a baby’s body language development, as she might be trying to tell you something through this unusual display. However, it could also be a sign of developmental impairments such as neurological and physical disorders.
Is Baby Arching Her Back Normal?
Babies begin to arch their back at around six to nine months of age, and they usually do this to display their irritation or inability to communicate clearly. According to well-reputed medical professionals, nearly all babies go through this phase to show their parents that they are frustrated. While it is normal, it is important that you hold her tight if she is prone to arching as she could slip out from your arms while being carried.
Reasons Why Infants Arch Their Backs
The reasons why infants arch their back could range from emotional to physical pain and even to certain serious medical conditions. If you notice that your child is arching her back, read this to know what could be the reason behind it:
- Kernicterus: If your baby is suffering from jaundice and is arching her back while crying, it could be kernicterus. Kernicterus is a condition that causes brain damage due to excessive bilirubin secretion. Liver problems such as jaundice can increase bilirubin levels. In drastic situations, the bilirubin could cross the blood-brain barrier and induce uncontrollable convulsions in the body. These seizures can lead to severe pain, making your baby arch her back.
- Gastroesophageal Reflux: Gastroesophageal or acid reflux occurs when stomach acid pours back into the food pipe. This happens due to poorly developed sphincter muscles that link the stomach to the oesophagus. If your baby suffers from reflux, she will be prone to arching her back when you feed her. She does this to ease the discomfort of reflux, as an arched back reduces stomach acid from flowing back. However, back arching combined with coughing and vomiting should not be taken lightly, and you must immediately take your child to a paediatrician.
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea: This condition is marked by a blockage of the respiratory tract around the windpipe. If your baby sleeps with her head arched back, it might mean she has obstructive sleep apnea. Sleeping in an arched position helps ease the obstruction in the respiratory tract, allowing air to enter with less difficulty.
- Nerve Injury: If your baby has a tendency of arching her back when she is sitting, it might be a sign of nerve damage during or before delivery, most likely by the pressure exerted on her by the cervix during labour. Another example of a nerve injury is if your baby arches during the teething phase, which indicates pain inside the gums.
- Exhaustion: Your baby might be arching her back simply because she is tired during feeding or playing. This means she needs to have a nice, long nap.
- Emotional Communication: As mentioned earlier, back arching is often meant to inform us of her rage, pain, or annoyance. This could be for any reason, like a change in her morning routine, being introduced to new people or being fed unfamiliar food.
- Epileptic Spasms: Your baby could be having an epileptic seizure if you notice a stiffened body together with an arched back. Spasms indicate nerve disorders and you must consult a doctor immediately.
- Autism Spectrum Disorders: Your baby might have a problem with her mental and/or physical development if she arches her back when you are being affectionate rather than when she is being fed. Back arching is common in babies with autism and Asperger’s syndrome, both of which are genetic disorders that impact neurological development. In these cases, a baby arches her back to tell her parents that she does not want to be held.
- Cerebral Palsy: Babies who arch their back too often might have a condition that impacts muscle movement, known as cerebral palsy. If your little one has cerebral palsy, her arching is involuntary – she has no control over it. While there is no cure for cerebral palsy, the effects of this condition can be controlled with therapy and medications. The earlier you start the treatment, the better.
- Rage: One of the most common reasons why babies arch their back is anger. For example, if your baby is arching her back during feeding it might be because the milk is not flowing fast enough or it is too warm or too cold. If your baby is arching her back during playtime, it might mean she is fatigued and wants to take a nap.
How to Stop a Baby From Arching Her Back
While the above-mentioned reasons are worth looking into, sometimes back arching in babies may not indicate a serious condition. You can easily help your child to be at ease with the following methods:
- Find the right position for your baby: It helps to place your baby on a flat surface like a bed or a couch where her back is supported. While feeding, place her upright as it decreases the likelihood of food being regurgitated. Change your baby’s resting surfaces, especially if she tends to arch her back on specific types of beds or sofas.
- Cuddle your little one: Please don’t forget to shower your baby with love and affection as it will make her happy! When feeling relaxed, there is a lower chance that she will arch her back from frustration or anger. Do note that babies with an Autism Spectrum Disorder may not like to be cuddled or held too much or for too long.
- Wrap your baby: Soft, comfortable clothing is the key to preventing your baby’s movements from being restricted. Tight clothing can exert pressure on the stomach, leading to acid reflux. Your baby might even be annoyed by the texture of the fabric or any clothing tags, so pay attention to her behaviour. Dress her in clothes that suit the weather; airy cotton and linens for summer and plush woollen clothes for winter.
- Small frequent meals: Don’t overfeed your baby. Give her small amounts of food to avoid a stuffed stomach and the consequent reflux. It’s not a good idea to put her down for nap time as soon as her meal is finished – carry her around, cuddle her and play with her for an hour or so before putting her to bed.
- Calm your baby down: Providing comfort to your baby reduces the likelihood of her arching her back due to stress. Babies have rather delicate emotions, and even the slightest alterations to her mood can result in frustration. Give her warm baths, rock her in your arms, play soothing music, or just talk to her. Another thing you can do is hold your baby close to your chest so that she can hear your heartbeat. The gentle sound will help her relax and make her comfortable.
- Distract your baby: This is one of the most effective methods to stop your little one from arching her back. Divert her mind towards something fun like a game or activity. If need be, you can even have her take a nap. For a baby whose back arching is rooted in emotional distress, this is a sure-fire way of getting her to stop.
- Don’t worry: This is the most important thing you should do. Taking care of a baby is hard work, but you will not be able to do it if you are anxious or tense. So, be patient and stop worrying.
Babies at nine months old have a tendency of arching their backs for a number of reasons. As they can’t communicate through words, this is one of the means they have of expressing their annoyance or anger. However, if you notice any other symptoms paired with an arched back, take your baby to a paediatrician as soon as possible.