Why Does My Baby Arch Their Back When Held?

As the parent of a new baby, you probably observe every movement and sound your child makes. You worry about anything your baby does that seems unusual.

One of those movements is the arching of your baby’s back, which has many possible causes.

This article will explore those causes, including less severe and more urgent potential reasons.

This article will also share some solutions for the problem and when to reach out to your pediatrician.

Most Common Causes Your Baby Is Arching Their Back

1. Reflux

If you notice that your baby is arching their back during or after a feeding, the cause may be gastroesophageal reflux (GERD or reflux).

This term means that your baby’s stomach acid is coming back up through the esophageal sphincter and into the esophagus. While this is a very common and treatable issue, it can be uncomfortable and painful.

Other reflux symptoms include spitting up, refusing to eat, crying during or after feedings, and the inability to stay asleep.

2. Communication

Another reason your baby is arching their back when held is that they are using movement as a form of communication.

They cannot yet communicate their needs and feelings through words, so they turn to body language and crying.

Arching the back while being held could mean they want to be put down or switch their position.

3. Moro Reflex

If you notice your baby arching their back when they hear a loud noise, are touched, or while they are falling asleep, the reason could be their inherent infant startle reflex.

When the reflex happens, your baby will throw their arms and head back, causing the back to arch. Babies may have this reflex as a form of survival.

If the reflex is frequently causing your baby to wake from sleep, try swaddling.

The Moro reflex disappears at around 5 to 6 months of age.

4. Temper Tantrums

Temper tantrums are another possible reason for back arching. Your baby cries as their primary method of communication to let you know they are hungry, sleepy, frustrated, or upset.

Regardless of the reason for the tantrum, your baby might throw their head back and arch their back. This can happen while lying, sitting, or while being held.

While frustrating, tantrums are a completely normal part of child development.

5. Rolling Over

Between 3-6 months, your baby will start to roll over from their back to their belly. As they spend time on their tummy, they will try to roll from their stomach to their back.

During tummy time, they are building muscles in their shoulders and back. When attempting to roll or look around, they might arch their back as they learn to use their muscles and gain momentum.

When successful, your baby will be amazed at what they have done. Rolling over is an exciting milestone that signifies your baby will soon learn to sit up!

6. Gas

Gassiness and upset stomachs are non-serious causes for your baby arching their back. As your baby digests their food, bubbles in the stomach cause discomfort.

Your baby might cry, refuse to sleep, and arch their back. If the gas is minor, you can try some home remedies to relieve the pain.

Make sure to keep your baby in an upright position after feeding.

Also, try to slow feeding down to prevent too much air from being swallowed. You can even purchase slow flow baby bottles, which help to slow feeding down.

Finally, make sure to burp your baby after each feeding.

If the gas is accompanied by bloody stools, extreme crying, fever, or not passing stools, call your pediatrician. These can be signs of a more serious digestive issue.

Less Common Causes

7. Infantile Spasms

Another reason babies arch their backs is infantile spasms. Infantile spasms is a seizure disorder that begins between 4 and 8 months of age.

The seizures will appear as a sudden uncontrolled movement with the back arching, body crunching, or head bobbing.

This disorder requires treatment, so if you notice the signs, try to take a video of the spasms to show your pediatrician.

Seizures can cause developmental issues, so early diagnosis is critical. The sooner treatment can be given, the better.

8. Nerve damage

Sometimes during childbirth, a baby’s neck and back muscles can be hurt or even damaged. The nerves can even be damaged if the birth was a challenging one.

If the nervous system has been weakened, the baby’s neck muscles can also be weak.

Because the back muscles have not been affected, the baby may arch their back as that is the only movement they can make.

Arching the back is much easier than moving their neck or shoulders. The nerve damage will usually go away after a few months.

Your medical professional might provide you with muscle strengthening exercises for the neck and shoulders to help your baby.

9. Autism

Most children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) do not receive a diagnosis until three years of age. However, there are multiple early signs babies show that might indicate ASD.

One indication is your baby is arching their back while being held. This movement appears as though they are attempting to get away from the holder.

Other early signs of autism include avoiding eye contact, not responding to calling their name, and not smiling or returning smiles or sounds.

Children on the autism spectrum will show multiple signs, not solely back arching.

10. Cerebral Palsy

Another less likely but more serious cause for your baby arching their back is cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is a “group of disorders that affect movement, muscle tone or posture.”

The damage usually happens when the brain is developing in the uterus, and the symptoms can vary in severity.

Diagnosis usually does not occur until the child is a few years old, but signs are often observed in the first few months of life.

In infants younger than six months, symptoms include the inability to hold their head up when being held, feeling “stiff or floppy,” and arching their back when held as if they are trying to get away.

Between 6 and 10 months, you might notice that your baby cannot roll over and struggle to keep their arms together.

In babies older than 10 months of age, you may observe your baby crawling using one hand and leg while the other leg and hand remain limp.

You will also notice your child struggling to stand even with support.

If you believe your baby is missing many physical developmental milestones, it is best to talk to your pediatrician about your concerns

11. Severe Jaundice

Jaundice is a common condition in newborns that is typically caught at birth with a jaundice bilirubin test. Severe jaundice, also known as kernicterus, is another very serious reason why your baby may be arching their back.

When a child’s bilirubin levels are too high, it travels from the bloodstream to the brain. Symptoms of jaundice are yellowing of skin and yellowing of eyes.

Besides observing your baby in an arched position, other signs of jaundice include lethargy, crying in a high pitch, unusual eye movement, and muscle rigidity.

If you notice any of these symptoms, you must go to a medical professional immediately.

Solutions and Next Steps

If you notice your baby frequently arching their back and suspect reflux or gas, try the following solutions:

  • Sit your baby upright after feeding
  • Feed smaller portions more often
  • After feeding, don’t put your baby to bed right away
  • Swaddle
  • Massage the belly

Tantrum Tips

Tantrums can be extremely frustrating, but are a typical part of childhood development. If your baby is arching their back during tantrums as a form of communication, try to identify what is causing the meltdowns, and see if you can meet the need.

Many babies also give signs before they throw a tantrum.

Try to identify these signals and console or calm your child before it begins with a calming talk and a gentle massage. Distractions are another method for curbing tantrum.

When To See Your Pediatrician

Contact your pediatrician if you notice back-arching along with other concerning symptoms.

Other reasons to seek medical advice are if your baby appears to be in pain, cries for longer than 3 hours or refuses to feed along with back arching.

When you go to the pediatrician, it will help to bring your observations of when you notice your baby arching their back and solutions you have already tried.

You can also bring up anything you observe at your baby’s regularly scheduled check-ups.

Whatever the reason for your baby arching their back, we hope this article helps your baby find comfort and brings you understanding.

This article is intended for educational purposes only.