More often than not, stretching in newborns is harmless and normal. If there are no other strange signs and symptoms that go along with their stretching movements, there’s a very low chance of an underlying problem. Nevertheless, it’s important to rule out very rigid muscles (hypertonia) and seizure episodes in newborns with unusual stretching behavior.
Most babies stretch a lot! They ruin your carefully placed swaddling and poke their arms and legs out. It can be adorable at first but may become bothersome when repeated over and over.
Maybe you’ve wondered… is this normal or not? Should I be worried? Let’s take a look at what stretching means in the newborn and what movements we should watch out for.
What does stretching mean?
Stretching is one of the most common body movements of a newborn. It’s a way for them to learn how to control their body and strengthen their muscles for future development.
Although it’s most commonly seen in babies 2 to 3 months of age, it’s still quite normal for newborns to stretch frequently.
As long there aren’t other unusual signs or symptoms that come with stretching, there is a low risk that your child has a worrying condition.
Your baby’s stretches are so wide that they often arch their back! This is normal if there aren’t any other unusual symptoms that go along with it.
Some signs that may point out a different scenario are the following:
- Back-arching and fussiness: Your baby most likely has infantile colic, also known as gassiness. There’s too much gas in their stomach that it becomes very uncomfortable, so they try to stretch to feel better. Tips to prevent these include removing eggs, nuts, and milk from the breastfeeding mother’s diet or seeking a consult with your doctor.
- Back-arching and difficulty moving a particular arm or shoulder: Your baby may have Erb’s Palsy. This type of nerve damage usually happens during the birthing process, especially on difficult deliveries. Your pediatrician may refer your child to a physical therapist for specialized exercises.
- Back-arching and regurgitation (or spit-ups): Your baby may have reflux. It’s quite common for newborns to have reflux, but if it becomes too uncomfortable for them, they arch their back to relieve themselves of pain. Your pediatrician may do further assessments or may prescribe medications for your child.
What is hypertonia? It’s the term used for excessive muscle tone. These muscles resist being moved in a different direction.
For example, in a hypertonic newborn, their muscles become rigid.
You’ll find it becomes difficult to move their arms or legs towards a different position because they feel stiff.
Hypertonia may have various causes. It could mean an infection or bleeding that has affected their brain or spinal cord. It could also indicate a block in the flow of the fluid passing through the brain and spinal cord (called cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF).
Sometimes, it could be due to a temporary lack of oxygen supply that happened even before they were born.
Some types of seizures in newborns involve rigid or excessively jerky movements that are accompanied by intense irritability and jitteriness.
One common disorder, called infantile spasms or West syndrome, can happen in small, quick bursts that only lasts a few seconds.
Infants may stiffen up, arch their back, and bend their head forward. Sometimes, symptoms are mild, quick, and unnoticeable. It may be hard to decipher whether your infant has this condition.
Some signs that can help determine whether your baby has infantile spasms include the following:
- Become fussier.
- Forget milestones that they previously developed (such as babbling, rolling over, or reaching for objects).
- Become more silent.
It is advisable to seek to consult with your friendly pediatrician for an accurate examination of your child and to rule out these conditions, as well as other seizure disorders.
If your newborn stretches a lot but doesn’t show anything more, it’s most likely part of their normal developmental process.
Any signs that may come along with stretching episodes, such as fussiness, spit-ups, stiff limbs, and spasms, may indicate medical conditions that need to be assessed by a healthcare professional.
Sarah is a healthcare writer, motivated by her love of reading books while growing up. She took up human biology and further studies in medicine, in order to fulfill her passion for helping kids. While she isn’t a biological mother yet, she has taken a young Siberian husky named Indy under her wing. She would love to someday travel the world and meet kids from different cultural backgrounds.