Why Does My Baby Arch Her Back When Feeding?

Last updated November 27th, 2020

Having a newborn brings out all these worries in a mother’s head, specially for first time moms like myself. We closely monitor our babies’ every move, every cry and how different they are when our little one is asking for milk compared to their cry when they need a hug or a cuddle for reassurance. It’s normal, we’re alright. Maternal/paternal instincts are valid.

Besides their different cries to tell us what they need, our babies will use body language too, which makes sense since we are built with reflexes. Arching their back when they are feeding is one of these actions that they do, buy why? The most common reason is gas. It could be as simple as that or it could also be something more serious.

Possible reasons for back arching in babies

As we all know, all babies are different and they might react to situations differently. It is very important for you to be extra observant and if your worry is building up always consult your pediatrician for the safety of your baby and for your peace of mind.

I’ll break down the list into minor and more serious causes so we could better relay vital information.

Minor causes of back arching

  1. Gas – Babies are still developing their digestive system and they might arch their back when they have gas or an upset stomach. This could be because arching the back stretches the stomach a bit and might make them feel a little better. 
  2. RefluxGastroesophageal reflux is common for a newborn from the moment they are born up to 18 months. Your baby can have reflux several times a day. It’s usually completely normal and nothing to worry about. But, sometimes if they’re spitting up and seem to have other symptoms, they may arch their back.
  3. Communication – Besides crying, some baby might have strong back muscles and arching their back could be easier for them to express their frustration. They may not like to be held of be fed, no one knows for sure what could trigger your baby’s actions while he is still developing his emotions. Just like adults your baby will try and communicate to you, not by words for the first year but they have their own “language”.
  4. Rollover attempts – By the time your baby get used to tummy time and builds a strong back, he will choose to always try and rollover while they’re lying down on their side or back to get into a better position to explore. Some babies arch their backs when they’re trying to roll over or move forward. 
  5. Nerve damage – Sometimes, the nerves between the neck and shoulders can get damaged due to difficulty in delivery. Erb’s palsy is a condition that happens to about 1 out of every 1,000 newborns. It happens when the neck nerves are weak because of too much stretching during birth. Most babies with this condition and other nerve damage from birth recover completely. Your baby’s pediatrician may recommend daily exercises to help make the neck and shoulder muscles stronger.

Serious Causes of back arching

  1. Autism – sometimes back arching can be developmental issue such as autism. If this is the case, the back arching would not take place exclusively at feeding times. In fact, it will more often take place when the child is being held or shown affection. According to WebMD, 1 in 150 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Most children are usually between the ages of 18 months and 5 years when they are diagnosed.
  2. Asperger’s syndrome – this condition is characterized by difficulties in developing social bonds and having nonverbal communication through eye contact or facial gestures.
  3. Cerebral Palsy – on some occasions this can be an early sign that your child is suffering from cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder that effects muscle control. If back arching is being caused by cerebral palsy it will not be seen only at feeding times, and is being caused by uncontrollable muscle spasms in the back.
  4. Kernicterus – According to WebMD, kernicterus “is a very rare type of brain damage that occurs in a newborn with severe jaundice.” When bilirubin, a substance in the blood of newborns, builds up and is left untreated, it can migrate into the brain causing permanent damage. The good news is that today’s healthcare protocols often make kernicterus preventable.
  5. Obstructive Sleep Apnea – If your baby arches his back when sleeping or resting on his back. If you adjust his position, he will slip back to the arched position or violently wake-up and start crying. Such instances can indicate obstructive sleep apnea, a chronic obstruction of the upper respiratory system. The baby will try to alleviate the pressure on the upper respiratory tract by positioning his head in an arched form

What to do when your baby arches his back?

What to do when your baby arches his back?
  • Calm down – Try to soothe your baby, go to a quiet room or space with just enough light just like when you would put him to sleep. Take a few breathes for yourself, you got this.
  • Cuddle up – Put your baby close to your chest, getting them close enough to hear your heartbeat. It calms them down and provides a feeling of safety.
  • Small meals, frequently – Give your baby 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.
  • Reposition – If your baby is arching his back while feeding in just a specific position you might want to consider changing your feeding position or try placing your baby to a different surface. If you are feeding your baby on the bed, try moving them to your lap or vice versa.
  • Divert attention – This is a simple yet so effective trick, bring out their favorite toy or show them an interesting view. It should work for babies that arch their backs because of restlessness or irritation.
  • Dress Comfortably – The last thing you want is for your little one to feel irritated because of what he’s wearing. Use comfortable fabrics for the child, in accordance with the season and temperature.

When to see a doctor?

When to see a doctor if your baby is arching his back
  • Crying won’t stop – It’s almost impossible to tell what kind of cry they are making sometimes, but most of the time we do figure it out and calm our babies down. But if your baby just won’t stop crying for hours even with all the tricks and soothing, it’s time to seek for professional help.
  • Continuously arches his back with increasing pain – Seeing your baby being in pain is heartbreaking, you’ll try to do your part but if your baby is showing signs that the pain is getting worst and not better, it’s best to call the doctor. You might want to record what your baby is experiencing too, for the doctor’s reference.
  • Throws up every after feeding – Uh-oh. This one has a red flag all over it. Once your little one starts to have problems taking in their milk or food, it’s important that you see a doctor for the next few hours because your baby could suffer dehydration and extreme hunger. Always keep your pediatrician’s contact number for emergency purposes.
  • Irritated when feeding or refuse to eat – Again, if it has something to do with their nutrition intake it’s an urgent matter and you should not wait it out. Your baby may not be throwing up but has not been getting the nutrition that he needs by the passing hours, still a valid reason to see the doctor ASAP.
  • Stiffness – Nothing about this is normal and it could be a sign of more serious health issue, stiffness of baby in any form is dangerous. Always be prepared to go to the doctor if you start to see this symptoms.
  • Jerking movements – It is very important that you make urgent decisions for your baby once you observe that there are certain movements in his body that is not normal. Remember to stay calm despite the stressful situation because your baby needs you in your best mindset now more than ever.

Takeaway

We are living in a wild world and as mothers we have an obligation to keep our babies happy and safe, it’s normal for us to freak out a little when they do unusual things no matter how big or small it may be. It keeps us up at night if we feel like they are not well or that they might be in any form of pain, as they say “it’s better to be safe than sorry”. that is why you should always keep the doctors’ contact numbers handy.

I hope this article helped you figure out your baby a little more and somehow gave you some clarifications on what to look out for, what to expect, and what to do in case your baby experience the same scenario. If you have any questions, suggestions, or a similar story that you want to share, feel free and comment down below.

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