baby arching back

Does your little one keep arching their back? If so, you might be curious to know why babies do this. Maybe you notice your baby arching their back when crying, or while sleeping. Or maybe there’s no pattern at all and your baby is simply a casual acrobat! Read on to learn more about this curious movement, including why it happens and when it could be cause for concern.

Why Do Babies Arch Their Backs?

A baby who is arching their back may be doing so for a number of reasons, and very few are cause for concern. Babies and newborns most often arch their backs while they’re crying, and sometimes when nursing, eating, sleeping, or working on motor development. It’s typically just an expressive movement, a way to communicate, or a reflexive motion in reaction to something. However, if back arching accompanies certain symptoms, it could indicate a health condition. We’ve rounded up the most common reasons why babies arch their backs along with guidance on when you do and don’t need to contact your child’s healthcare provider.

Gas and Reflux

A gassy baby can also be a back-arching baby! When you’re feeding your little one, they may eat too fast or swallow air, which can cause gas. And because gas can lead to an upset stomach and discomfort, your child may move around, arching their back or pulling their legs up to find some relief.

Similarly, if your infant or baby is arching their back while nursing, or perhaps when eating solid foods, it could be a sign of reflux. Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) is when your baby’s food comes back up through the esophagus after feeding. Gassiness and GER are nothing to worry about unless they’re prolonged or accompany other symptoms. For example, if your baby is crying and arching their back after eating, it could be a sign of a food allergy or sensitivity. And if GER lasts more than 12 to 14 months, it could be a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and may require some feeding adjustments or medical intervention. If you’re going through quite a few diapers these days, download our Pampers Club App to start earning rewards on all your diapers and wipes purchases. Do you know the right diaper size for your baby? Take the quiz below to find out!

Building Muscles and Motor Skills

As your baby progresses beyond the newborn stage, you’ll start to see more and more movement. Your little one is busy working on developing muscle strength and control—especially in the back and neck muscles—which they need to master motor skills and reach important development milestones, like sitting up. Arching the back may be part of this exciting process. For example, at around 4 months or a little later, your baby may start trying to lift their chest, which involves pushing up on the arms and arching the back. These infant pushups help build upper body strength and balance, which your baby needs to stay stable and upright when sitting. You might also see your baby arching their back while they rock on their stomach, kicking their legs and doing a swimming motion with their arms—all of this is to prepare for rolling over and sitting up. You can help your baby practice their moves and build those essential muscles by including tummy time in your daily routine. Always make sure to stay close to your baby during tummy time sessions. To learn more about the benefits of tummy time, watch the video below.

Being Overstimulated or Colicky

Babies cry often and for different reasons—they could be bored or tired, hungry or uncomfortable. Crying is how they communicate. And when babies cry because they’ve become overstimulated, they may arch their back at the same time. It’s common for colicky babies to arch their backs during crying spells, too. Here are a few things that babies may be reacting to or experiencing when they’re crying and arching their backs:

  • Too much stimulation. Babies do need breaks from play and interaction. Babies have a stimulation threshold, and yours may have reached theirs when they start crying, arching the back, and looking away. Your baby is letting you know it’s time for a break, such as a nap.

  • Colic. One of the signs of colic in babies is an arching back. Colic is when an otherwise healthy baby cries for more than three hours a day during at least three days a week, for three or more weeks. If your baby has colic, you may notice them arching their back, straightening their arms and legs, crying or screaming for extended periods, or clenching their fists.

Sleeping, Nursing, Eating, and Teething

Sometimes babies or newborns arch their backs while doing everyday things, like nursing or sleeping, or while going through the teething stage. Here is additional insight on what it means when your baby arches their back in these situations:

  • Sleeping. Sometimes, you may notice your baby arching their back while sleeping. Your baby could be moving around or stretching in a stage of light sleep or could be arching the back to relieve gas. Remember to always put your baby down to sleep on the back, as this is the safest way for babies to slumber.

  • Nursing and eating. Arching the back relates to gas and reflux, as your baby might eat too much too fast. If your little one gets gassy a lot, try using a slow-flow baby bottle designed to limit the amount of air swallowed, which can help prevent gas and reflux.

  • Teething. Teething can cause swollen and tender gums that may make your baby a little fussy and uncomfortable. If your baby is crying and/or arching their back while teething, try massaging their gums or letting them chew on a teething toy made with hard rubber.

What to Do and When to Contact Your Healthcare Provider

By now, you probably understand that a newborn or older baby arching their back is natural, normal, and typically not a cause for concern. However, if your baby is arching their back because of discomfort or pain, it could be related to a health condition. There are a few things you can do at home to help your baby, but if this movement accompanies more serious symptoms, it’s best to contact your child’s healthcare provider to rule out any medical issues that may require treatment. In the chart below, you’ll find a few home remedies to help you with issues causing your baby to arch the back. However, if you notice any of the serious symptoms listed, contact your child’s healthcare provider.

When babies arch their backs, it’s mostly related to normal development or common conditions that you and your child’s healthcare provider can manage from home. However, there are some additional, more complicated issues that could cause your baby to arch their back, so consult the provider when:

  • any of the serious symptoms listed above occur

  • your baby appears to be in pain

  • your baby exhibits odd behavior or a change in behavior

  • you have any questions or concerns.

Usually, back-arching isn’t something to worry about, but it’s always best to double-check with your child’s healthcare provider.

The Bottom Line

You may be asking yourself, “Why does my baby boy or girl arch his or her back?”—and you’re not the only parent wondering about this curious little behavior! You may notice your baby or newborn arching their back when tired, hungry, uncomfortable, or upset. Other reasons include your little one having gas or reflux, or wanting to show off new back muscle skills. This behavior isn’t typically something to worry about but be sure to contact your child’s healthcare provider with any questions or concerns. Together, you can explore why your baby arches their back and determine if any medical intervention or treatment is necessary. Most likely, your little acrobat is simply expressing themselves with this natural and normal movement!