Baby stiffens body when feeding

Causes, Solutions, and When to Worry

By now you’ve likely learned to recognize the various types of crying your baby has. You can distinguish between the I’m-so-hungry cry and the get-me-out-of-this-soggy-diaper cry. Your finely tuned ear may also pick up the I-need-attention and cuddle-me-now cries.

Sometimes crying is accompanied by expressive body movements, including an arched back. Back or spine arching — like a bow or doing the cat pose in yoga — is common in babies. Babies arch their backs for many reasons.

In some cases, an arched back along with other symptoms can signal a health condition. But if your baby arches their back without any other symptoms, chances are they’re just a natural at yoga. Let your baby’s pediatrician know about the back arching, just to be on the safe side.

Here’s what to look for and what your baby might be trying to tell you.


Gassiness can be common in a baby’s brand new digestive system. Some babies can have bouts of fussiness that last for several day or weeks. This is sometimes labeled generically as colic.

Colic can start when your baby is only 4 to 6 weeks old and cause crying for hours at a time. Fortunately, babies usually outgrow colic by the time they’re 4 months old.

Your baby 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. You might notice that your baby arches their back after feeding, when trying to poop, and even while lying down.

Baby reflux

Reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux, is common in babies right from birth to about 18 months of age.

Babies reflux happens because the round muscles that pinch both ends of the stomach closed don’t yet work properly in these new little humans. If your baby is premature, they might have more reflux.

Your (very healthy) 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.

Similar to when babies have colic, they might arch their back because it helps bring down the feeling that come with reflux. You might notice this during and after feeding, while your baby is lying down, and even while they’re fast asleep.

Body language

Sometimes your baby might arch their back because they don’t want to be held or fed. This kind of body stiffening could be a sign to put them down or change position.

Some babies have strong back muscles and this may be the easiest way — other than crying — for their body to tell you what they want. Your little independent one may use the “back arch method” to get out of unwanted cuddles up to the age of 2 years! (Don’t take it personally, mom and dad.)

Startle reflex

Most babies have a startle reflex (also called the Moro reflex) when they hear a sudden or loud noise. It might also happen if they feel like they’re falling or if they’re moved suddenly.

Startling may make a baby suddenly straighten their legs forward and throw back their arms. Their head may also jerk backwards, making their back arch. The startle reflex usually goes away by the time baby is 2 to 4 months old.

Rollover attempts

As your little one gets used to tummy time, they’re also building stronger back and neck muscles. They’ve learned to lift their head and realize that the more they can move, the more they can look around. This is exciting!

So your baby may arch their back during tummy time or 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. You’ll probably see their eyebrows go up as they wiggle every muscle they can.

Temper tantrums

Your little angel might have a head start on the terrible twos. Some babies arch their backs and throw their heads back when they’re upset or frustrated. This can happen while they’re lying down, sitting down, standing — or even cradling in your arms. A baby in the heat of a tantrum may also cry, whine, and thrash about.

Just about anything might set off a temper tantrum. Your little one may be hungry and not getting what they ordered from you — their short-order cook — immediately. Or they may be finished feeding and want to go play. Or your baby might be frustrated because they can’t express their needs to you.

No matter what the reason for a tantrum, it can be alarming when your baby arches their back and throws their head backwards. They can hurt themselves — and bump you squarely in the face.

If your little one gets into the habit of this, look for warning signs like crying or being upset first.

Related: Help! Why is my toddler angry and what can I do to help them?

Seizures or seizure-like movements

Although it sounds serious, seizures in newborn babies aren’t the same as seizures or epilepsy in older children and adults. Your baby may have seizures — or seizure-like movements and behaviors that are mistaken for seizures — that begin in the first week of life.

A seizure can last for a few seconds. Your baby might suddenly be very quiet and look like they are very stiff or frozen. Or they may still be able to move their hands by rotating their wrists.

Some babies may arch their backs during what appears to be seizure-like behavior. It can happen at any time, usually when your baby is awake or just drifting asleep.

Newborn seizures are uncommon, but may happen because a baby’s brain is still growing and the nerves can get their wires crossed. One rare type of newborn seizures can run in families. Some babies with this rare genetic type of seizure disorder may have them often, while others have them once in a while or not at all. These baby seizures usually stop completely by the time your child is 6 to 9 months old.

Nerve damage

Your baby’s delicate neck and back can get sprained in a difficult delivery. Sometimes, the nerves between the neck and shoulders can get damaged.

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. The weaker nerves lead to weaker muscles in the neck and shoulder.

This may cause back arching in your baby, because they can move their back muscles and other strong muscles better than their neck muscles. However, back arching alone isn’t a sign of this condition. It would come with other symptoms — in particular, decreased movement in one shoulder and arm.

Most babies with Erb’s Palsy 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.

Newborn jaundice

Almost 60 percent of newborns have jaundice. This condition might make your baby look a bit yellow. It happens because a new baby’s tiny liver is not yet working properly, which causes too much bilirubin in the blood. This chemical is left over from when your body breaks down blood.

Babies have the most bilirubin when they are 3 to 5 days old. Normally, the liver kicks in and clears up the bilirubin by the time your baby is a couple of weeks old.

Sometimes, the jaundice gets worse instead of better. In rare cases, too much bilirubin, causing severe jaundice, can cause a kind of brain condition called kernicterus.

Arching the back is a classic sign of brain damage from kernicterus in babies who have or have had very high bilirubin levels. Other symptoms include:

  • high pitch crying
  • floppiness or stiffness
  • hard to wake up or not sleeping at all
  • not feeding well

This serious condition only happens if the jaundice isn’t treated and bilirubin levels get very high. If your baby is diagnosed with kernicterus, they can still be treated by a specialist doctor.

Cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy is a group of muscle control conditions. It usually happens when there is brain damage while your baby is still in the womb. About 1 in 323 children worldwide have a type of cerebral palsy.

Signs of this condition might show up while your little one is a baby or toddler. Signs include muscle floppiness, strong reflexes, and stiffening (like arching the back). Babies with cerebral palsy may also have trouble swallowing and moving their eyes. Some babies with this condition may also be more likely to have seizures.

Sandifer syndrome

Sandifer syndrome is a rare movement condition almost always associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It starts in babies or small children. Once the baby is treated for GERD (or it goes away on its own), this condition goes away.

Sandifer syndrome causes serious back arching in babies that can last for up to 3 minutes. It causes a frozen kind of back arching that can sometimes be mistaken for a baby seizure.

Back arching from this syndrome can happen about 10 times a day, usually after your baby has eaten. During back arching your baby will also stretch their legs out backwards and be very stiff. Other symptoms of Sandifer syndrome include:

  • tilting the head to one side
  • nodding head movements
  • poor feeding
  • vomiting
  • problems with eye movements

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) typically show several signs. This sometimes includes repetitive motions like back arching, but remember that back arching is much more often due to other causes.

Autistic children may show symptoms around the time they are a year old (or earlier), but most kids aren’t diagnosed until they’re about 3 years old.

A newborn or a baby that is only a few weeks to a few months old will likely not show signs of this condition. If your child is on the autism spectrum, they’ll likely have several other signs along with back arching.

By the end of the first year, an autistic baby may show characteristic traits that are more common, like:

  • not smiling spontaneously at parents or caregivers
  • not using eye contact to communicate
  • not gesturing (waving or pointing) on their own

Later on your child may show other repetitive motions, such as:

  • stiffening their arms
  • flapping their hands
  • walking on their toes

In most cases, your baby’s back arching will go away on its own as they learn to roll over and control their body better, outgrow the startle reflex, and get more comfortable with people around them.

If there’s a health problem that’s making your little one arch their back, treating the underlying condition will solve the back arching. For example, treating common baby problems like gassiness and acid reflux will take care of the back stretching.

For normal gassiness and baby reflux you can try simple, low risk home remedies like:

  • prop your baby upright after feeding
  • avoid overfeeding
  • give smaller feeds more often
  • use a smaller bottle and nipple size to stop air-gulping if this seems to be an issue
  • thicken breast milk or formula with a tiny bit of infant cereal (check with your pediatrician first as this can have risks)

If your little angel is throwing their head backwards and arching their back in a toddler temper tantrum, gentle behavior training may help stop this. Teaching your child how to express themselves in a less dramatic way might help. Ask your pediatrician for recommendations.

Some babies with seizures will naturally outgrow them. Other more serious causes of back arching may need physical therapy, medications, surgery, or other medical treatment.

Sometimes gassiness and fussiness can start to be accompanied by other symptoms that won’t go away, and acid reflux might be a sign of a more serious health condition. Call your child’s pediatrician urgently if your baby:

  • is crying for 3 hours or longer
  • is arching their back and showing other signs of pain
  • throws up every time you feed them
  • is irritable during feeding
  • refuses to feed
  • isn’t gaining weight or has lost weight
  • isn’t wetting their diaper

Look for symptoms of brain or nerve problems along with back arching. Contact your child’s doctor or go to urgent or emergency care right away if your baby experiences:

  • sudden difficulty latching or feeding
  • weak sucking
  • difficulty swallowing
  • high-pitched cry
  • seizures
  • bulging or swollen soft spots on the head
  • stiffness
  • floppiness
  • strange head or neck posture
  • jerking movements
  • muscle spasms

If your baby’s got back (arching), you probably don’t have to worry. Babies arch their backs for many reasons — or for no reason at all. In a happy, comfortable, healthy baby, back arching likely has no cause and is just one of those things they do.

This common baby movement can also be a sign of other underlying health problems — sometimes serious. If you notice your baby is arching their back, look for other symptoms. Let your pediatrician know what you notice. Make sure you take your new bundle of joy to all their regular check-ups.

Hypertonia in babies: What to do if your baby stiffens their body

Babies sometimes stiffen their legs and arms or tighten up their body when you pick them up or they get excited or frustrated. Often this type of stiffening is no big deal.

Children might also stiffen up their bottoms when they're having a bowel movement, especially if the stool is hard. And colic can make babies pull in and tighten their arms and legs, tense their abdomen, and clench their fists.

Your baby may also be discovering new ways to use their muscles. Some older babies stiffen up to resist doing something they dislike, such as getting a diaper change or being put into their car seat.

All of these situations are perfectly normal. But in other cases, a baby stiffening their body or arms and legs can indicate a problem.

What is hypertonia?

Hypertonia is a condition that makes a baby's muscles stiff and hard to move. It happens because of damage to areas of the brain and spinal cord that control muscle movements.

While babies need to contract their muscles to move their bodies and sit upright, muscles that are continually contracted are less flexible. Often hypertonia affects a baby's arm, leg, and neck muscles.

Children with hypertonia move in different ways because they often have a limited range of motion at their joints. They may have trouble walking, balancing, and letting go of objects they've grabbed.

There are two types of hypertonia:

  • Spastic hypertonia is muscle spasms and exaggerated reflexes that increase when a baby moves.
  • Dystonic hypertonia is when muscle tone stays the same whether the baby is moving or still.

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Doctors will move a baby's arms and legs in different directions at various speeds to figure out which type of hypertonia they have.

Symptoms of hypertonia in babies

Muscle stiffness is the main symptom of hypertonia. Where that stiffness occurs and how severe it is can vary based on the cause.

In general, a child with hypertonia might:

  • Have trouble moving their joints, especially joints in the arms, legs, or neck
  • Have less range of motion
  • Lose their balance and fall often
  • Feel pain or soreness in their muscles
  • Jerk or twitch their arms or legs

In severe hypertonia, the joint can freeze in place. Doctors call this a contracture. Babies with contractures may not be able to move the affected body part much, or at all.

Causes of hypertonia in babies

When a baby wants to move, signals from their nervous system (brain and spinal cord) travel to their nerves, which direct their muscles to contract or relax. An injury to the brain or spinal cord can prevent those signals from reaching the nerves.

In hypertonia, the baby's muscles don't get the signal to relax. They stay contracted.

Possible causes of hypertonia in babies include:

  • A lack of oxygen during birth
  • Head injury
  • Brain tumor
  • Exposure to a chemical that affects the brain
  • Problems that happened when the brain developed in the womb

Other reasons why your baby may stiffen their body

Hypertonia isn't the only possible reason for a baby to stiffen their body. A few other medical conditions also cause this symptom.

Infantile spasm. These rare seizures look like a sudden stiffening of the baby's arms, legs, or head, which may also jut forward. Infantile spasms often start when a baby is 4 to 7 months old. Each spasm lasts just a second or two, and babies can have up to 100 of them per day. Treatment with medication is important to prevent serious complications like epilepsy, developmental delay, and intellectual disability.

Cerebral palsy. This group of brain disorders affects a baby's muscle control. Cerebral palsy has a few types. Some cause uncontrollable movements. Others lead to poor balance. The most common type is spastic cerebral palsy, which causes muscle stiffness.

Seizures and epilepsy. Epilepsy is a brain disorder in which nerve cells fire in an abnormal pattern, leading to seizures. During a seizure, a baby's arms and legs might jerk, twitch, or stiffen. An electroencephalogram and other tests can help your doctor determine whether your baby is having seizures.

When to call the doctor if your baby stiffens their body

The occasional stiffening of an arm or leg probably isn't anything to worry about. But if it happens often, you'll want to seek help.

Whenever you have a question or concern about your baby's development, it's wise to call the doctor. In the unlikely event that stiffness does signal a condition like cerebral palsy or epilepsy, getting it checked out can start you on the path to a diagnosis and treatment.

Babies have lots of strange behaviors that can look concerning but are normal, like throwing themselves backward when they're upset. But if your child does have a problem or developmental delay, you'll want to get help and support ASAP.

Preventive measures against regurgitation in children


Regurgitation is the spontaneous reflux of gastric contents into the esophagus and mouth. This condition is not uncommon in infants and is often a cause for concern for parents. The frequency of regurgitation syndrome in children of the first year of life is 18-50%: up to 4 months - 67%, up to 6 months 24%, up to 1 year 5%. In most cases, regurgitation is "benign" and disappears on its own after 12-18 months. At the same time, “benign” or physiological regurgitation characterizes: nine0003

  • the age of the child is up to 12 months;

  • spitting up 2 or more times a day for 3 or more weeks;

  • sufficient weight gain;

The child has no signs of metabolic disorders, diseases of the gastrointestinal tract or the central nervous system. The child does not experience difficulty in swallowing or feeding, there is no forced position of the body. nine0003

Do not confuse regurgitation with vomiting. When a child burps, the abdominal muscles do not tense up. With vomiting, on the contrary, muscle tension occurs and food is ejected by pressure not only through the mouth, but also through the nose. In some cases, there may be general anxiety, pallor, cold extremities. Often with vomiting, the temperature rises, loose stools appear, which is a sign of an infectious disease. Vomit may contain unchanged milk, mucus, blood or bile. nine0003

What explains physiological regurgitation

What is the tendency of babies to spit up? This phenomenon is explained by the peculiarity of the structure of the gastrointestinal tract of young children. At the age of one year, the esophagus is shorter and wider, physiological narrowing is weakly expressed. The stomach is located horizontally, its capacity is small, and the muscles that close the entrance to the stomach and prevent the contents from being thrown back into the esophagus are poorly developed. As the child begins to walk, the axis of the stomach becomes more vertical. The capacity of the stomach increases by the year from 30-35 ml to 250-300 ml. The secretory apparatus matures, the work of the closing muscles (sphincters) improves, which leads to a gradual decrease in the frequency and disappearance of regurgitation. These features explain the predisposition of young children to regurgitation and even the inevitability of this condition. However, there are measures to help reduce the frequency of regurgitation. nine0003

Factors contributing to physiological regurgitation include:

  1. Overfeeding. As a rule, actively sucking babies begin to suffer from overfeeding, with abundant milk secretion, as well as when switching to artificial or mixed feeding with an incorrect calculation of the required amount of milk formula. Regurgitation appears immediately or some time after feeding in the amount of 5-10 ml. Milk can flow out unchanged or curdled. nine0003

  2. Swallowing air during feeding (aerophagia). A similar situation arises if the child suckles greedily at the breast, and the mother's milk is not very plentiful; due to the retracted, flat nipple of the mother's breast, since the child fails to fully capture the nipple and areola; with artificial feeding, if the hole at the nipple of the bottle is large enough or the nipple is not completely filled with milk. Babies with aerophagia often experience anxiety after feeding, bulging of the abdominal wall (belly inflates). After 10-15 minutes, the swallowed milk flows out unchanged, which is accompanied by a loud sound of air eructation. nine0003

  3. Intestinal colic or constipation. These conditions lead to an increase in pressure in the abdominal cavity and a violation of the movement of food through the gastrointestinal tract, causing regurgitation.

Until the child is four months old, spitting up up to two teaspoons of milk after feeding, or one spitting up of more than three spoons during the day, is considered the norm. You can check the amount of spitting up in the following way: take a diaper, pour one teaspoon of water on its surface, and then compare this spot with the spot formed after the next spitting up. nine0003

Pathological regurgitation may be due to:

  • surgical diseases and malformations of the digestive system;

  • diaphragmatic hernia;

  • pathology of the central nervous system, trauma of the cervical spine during childbirth;

  • food intolerance, lactase deficiency;

  • increased intracranial pressure.

Such regurgitation is characterized by intensity, systematicity, the child spits up a large amount of milk. At the same time, there is a violation of the general condition of the baby - the child is whiny, loses or does not gain weight, cannot eat the amount of food necessary for his age. In such a situation, a pediatrician, gastroenterologist, surgeon, allergist, neurologist should be examined. It also requires examination and exclusion of anomalies in the structure of the upper gastrointestinal tract, the preservation of regurgitation for more than 1 year. nine0003

Scale for assessing the intensity of regurgitation:

  1. Less than 5 regurgitations per day with a volume of not more than 3 ml - 1 point.

  2. More than 5 regurgitations per day with a volume of more than 3 ml - 2 points.

  3. More than 5 regurgitations per day up to half the amount of formula or breast milk, not more often than in half of the feedings - 3 points.

  4. Spitting up a small amount of milk for 30 minutes or more after each feeding - 4 points.

  5. Regurgitation from half to full volume of formula or breast milk in at least half of the feedings - 5 points.

Regurgitation with an intensity of 3 or more points requires a visit to a doctor.

Preventive measures against regurgitation in children

If regurgitation is physiological in nature, then it is not worth treating or correcting in this case. It is necessary to deal with the elimination of the cause, if possible, and carry out prevention.

Prevention of regurgitation in children includes the following measures:

  1. Postural therapy: when feeding, it is necessary to hold the baby at an angle of 45 °, make sure that he completely grasps the nipple with the areola; after feeding, hold the baby in an upright position ("column") for 20 minutes - to drain the swallowed air. Due to this, the air that has entered the stomach will be able to go out. If nothing happened, then put the baby down and after a minute or two, lift him upright again. nine0003

  2. Make sure that the opening in the bottle is not too large and that the nipple is filled with milk. Experiment with nipples - perhaps the other will be better. Milk should come out in drops, not a trickle.

  3. Before you start feeding your baby, lay him belly down on a solid base.

  4. After feeding, try to minimize the baby's physical activity, do not disturb him unnecessarily, and change clothes only if there is an emergency. nine0003

  5. Avoid squeezing diapers or clothes on the abdomen of the child.

  6. If the baby's appetite is good, then it is better to feed him often, but in small portions, otherwise, due to the large amount of food, the stomach may overflow, and this, as a result, leads to regurgitation of excess food.

  7. The surface in the bed on which the baby lies should rise 10 cm at the head. nine0003

  8. In addition, it is possible to use special "thickeners" of milk or anti-reflux mixtures, which the doctor will help you choose.

In the event that regurgitation begins to become more frequent or becomes abundant, or first began after six months of the baby's life, or does not subside by one and a half to two years of life, the child should be consulted by a pediatrician. With a high probability, additional help from a gastroenterologist will be needed. nine0003

In our Family Medical Center you can always find highly professional help.

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why this happens and what needs to be done

When parents first encounter this phenomenon, they may become seriously alarmed. What is it - a symptom of a neurological disease or just whims? In most cases, when the baby arches, throwing his head back, there is nothing to worry about. But there are situations when the intervention of a specialist is necessary. nine0003

What you need to know if the baby throws his head back and arches

The baby arches and throws his head back, but does not show dissatisfaction Most likely there is nothing to worry about. Perhaps he is trying to see something up or behind his back, or learning new skills. In some cases, this may be a manifestation of hypertonicity. In the first six months, this may be within the normal range, but if such phenomena are observed frequently or persist for a long time, you should see a doctor. nine0155
The child shows anxiety A lot here depends on the general condition of the baby. He may arch and whimper if his back is itchy or his nose is stuffy. More vivid signs of discontent will be if the child is tormented by colic, pain, or he is frightened. If you cannot find the cause and / or this condition recurs often, you need to see a doctor for a diagnosis.

Variants of the physiological norm

In some cases, the child can pull the back of the head back for the simplest reasons: he is studying his body and the world around him. But there may be other reasons as well. nine0003

Below, we will consider in more detail all situations where “acrobatic stunts” are a physiological norm.

Hypertonicity in infants under 6 months

Physiological hypertonicity of the limb flexors in children under 6 months of age is considered normal. The fact is that at this age the maturation of the nervous system is still ongoing.

Mastering the skill

Baby mastering the skill of rolling onto his stomach. In this case, the child lies on his side and throws his head back, trying to roll over from his back to his stomach. You can help the baby: throw one leg over the other crosswise in the direction where the child wants to roll over. After this, the baby must himself complete the coup with the upper body. nine0003


Often the baby, rolling in hysterics, arches, throws back his head, bursting into heart-rending crying. There is nothing wrong with this, take the baby in your arms and try to calm him down. You need to understand what alarmed him and eliminate the cause.

Affective-respiratory attacks

This is the name of the phenomenon when, for some reason, the child stops breathing for a short time. Often, such attacks are accompanied by tantrums, but they can also be provoked, for example, by fright or a sudden change in the environment (for example, when immersed in cold water). What it looks like: the child “rolls up” in a cry, his neck extensor muscles tighten, his torso arches, the nasolabial triangle turns blue, and at the height of the cry, the breath is suddenly held while inhaling, the skin turns blue (1). After a few seconds, the child comes to his senses, breathing becomes regular. nine0003

These seizures can occur in healthy children during the first year of life and are usually harmless. But if such situations are repeated often and, perhaps, for no apparent reason, you should consult a doctor to rule out various diseases.

Colic and bloating

A nightmare for parents of babies under the age of 3-4 months. Colic is also a variant of the norm, since intestinal motility in a child is not yet fully developed.

During colic, the baby screams heart-rendingly, arches and throws back its head, blushes strongly, clenching its fists and twisting its legs (2). The abdomen is hard and swollen, the child may refuse to eat. There are several ways to help a baby:

  • gently massage the tummy,
  • put on a clean diaper, ironed with a hot iron,
  • give medicine for colic (only after consulting a doctor!).

If the baby is breastfed, the mother should take a closer look at her diet and exclude foods that increase gas formation: cabbage, legumes, carbonated drinks, chocolate. In the most extreme cases, the use of a gas outlet tube is acceptable.

Runny nose

It happens that with a runny nose, when it is difficult for an infant to breathe, he begins to arch and worry. Try to help the baby by raising his mattress by 30 degrees to improve the outflow of mucus, and also monitor the humidity and air temperature in the room where the child sleeps.

Trying to find a sleeping position

Sometimes babies arch their backs and tilt their heads back, trying to get comfortable before going to bed. The fact is that in the womb, children are often in unnatural positions, and in the first months of life they can unconsciously repeat them. nine0003

Other reasons

If the child is arching but not complaining, he may be trying to look at toys hanging over him.

Try to hang the mobile and rattles so that the child does not have to dodge to look at them. Keep in mind that if the toys are hung too close to the baby's face, it may adversely affect his vision.

In addition, the child may arch for very banal reasons: perhaps his back or neck itches. nine0003

When the child should be seen by a pediatrician or a neurologist

What to do if you are convinced that the baby does not suffer from colic, you have tried all the ways, but the baby does not calm down and continues to cry and bend over, throwing his head back? To relieve yourself of anxiety, seek the advice of a pediatrician or neurologist.

Let's consider situations when such behavior of the baby may indicate health problems.

Increased intracranial pressure

Sometimes, if the pregnancy proceeded with complications, the child developed intrauterine hypoxia, or had a difficult delivery, then in the first months the baby may have increased intracranial pressure, due to which he will arch, throw back his head and cry. If intracranial pressure is suspected, it is urgent to show the baby to the doctor to avoid complications.

CSF hypertension symptoms

Irritability, tearfulness, constant crying for no apparent reason, negative reaction to bright lights or loud sounds. Also, often increased intracranial pressure is accompanied by convulsions, profuse regurgitation after feeding. The baby sleeps little and constantly wakes up, when he screams, his lips and chin tremble violently, and the nasolabial triangle also turns blue. In severe cases, the baby's fontanel swells and protrudes, strabismus develops. nine0003

Raised intracranial pressure can sometimes be a symptom of a serious illness, such as meningitis, which develops atypically in young children.

Muscular hypertonicity

Arching of the back and tilting of the head may be a sign of muscular hypertonicity in a child. Often, hypertonicity is a consequence of oxygen starvation, fetal hypoxia during pregnancy or during prolonged labor. The most severe consequences can be encephalopathy and cerebral palsy. nine0003

Muscle tension can be all over the body or affect only one side of the baby's body. Parents should be alerted not only by the frequent arching of the child and throwing back the head, but also by the violation of the grasping function. Muscle hypertonicity is a reason to show the child to a doctor who, if necessary, will prescribe a course of treatment and massage.


Tilt-back of the child's head can also be caused by torticollis (a pathology of the musculoskeletal system in the neck, due to which the child's head deviates to the side or can be turned to the side). Parents should be alerted if the child's head is always in the same position, and when you try to turn it in the other direction, the child worries and cries. Torticollis requires mandatory treatment, which includes wearing a special collar, massage courses and physiotherapy. nine0003

Meningeal syndrome

A complication may occur as a result of otitis media if treatment is started late. This is due to the underdevelopment of the structures of the middle ear in young children.

In this case, the child throws back his head unconsciously, trying to alleviate his condition (3). The following symptoms may also be observed:

  • convulsions,
  • vomiting,
  • confusion,
  • decreased motor activity.

You must go to the hospital immediately.


During an epileptic seizure, the child may arch, throwing back his head strongly, and freeze in this state for a while. After the attack passes, the child relaxes, begins to cry, urination or defecation occurs. Treatment of epilepsy is prescribed only by a doctor and takes place under medical supervision.

Cerebral palsy

If a child arches their back frequently for no apparent reason, this may be a sign of a pathology such as cerebral palsy (4). But other characteristic signs should also be observed:

  • developmental delays (late crawling, sitting, walking, talking),
  • low or increased muscle tone,
  • problems with speech and swallowing, with only one hand, limps at an older age).

Some of these signs may also be observed in healthy children, but if something worries you, it is worth taking the child to specialists in order to rule out a problem or start treatment in time. nine0003


Photo: Andrey Arkusha,

If you are concerned that the baby often arches and throws his head back, it is better to seek advice from a doctor who will determine reliably whether this is a norm or a pathology. The doctor will listen to complaints, ask how the pregnancy, childbirth and the first days of the child's life proceeded, specify how often and under what circumstances the baby throws his head back, whether he cries or behaves calmly, whether the nasolabial triangle turns blue, whether the fontanel swells. nine0003

If necessary, the doctor may prescribe tests and examinations:

  • general blood and urine tests,
  • neurosonography (ultrasound of the brain through the fontanel),
  • electroencephalography (to rule out epilepsy).

However, CT and MRI scans are extremely rare for young children, since these studies are carried out under general anesthesia, so that the child is completely immobile.

Popular Questions and Answers

Our expert, Veronika Oranskaya, neurologist, epileptologist, member of the League of Evidence-Based Medicine.

The baby throws back his head and arches after feeding - what can it be?

Sometimes tilting the head back after eating or only in a horizontal position during sleep can be a manifestation of the so-called Sandifer's syndrome, which occurs due to gastroesophageal reflux (reflux of stomach contents into the esophagus). Requires medical advice and treatment.

Can head tilt be a symptom of a child's vision problem? nine0047

If for some reason (myasthenia gravis, oculomotor neuropathy, congenital feature) the child cannot raise the upper eyelid, he will tilt his head back.

What other possible pathologies can the tilting of the head and arching of the child indicate?

Sudden paroxysmal tilting of the head may be epileptic seizures.

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