There are any number of reasons why babies arch their backs. Because infants can not speak, they must communicate their needs and feelings through body language. However, back arching can also be a sign of a physical or developmental problem. It is important for parents to monitor their child and report any unusual behavior, including excessive back arching, to their pediatrician.
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The single most common reason a baby will arch her back during a feeding is because she is suffering from gastroesophageal reflux, which is more commonly known as acid reflux. Many babies suffer from this disorder, which is caused by the loosening of muscles that prevent stomach acids from entering the esophagus. If you feel your baby has reflux, it is important to contact your pediatrician. There are prescription and over-the-counter remedies that can help.
Older babies will often arch their backs when they are feeling frustrated or angry. If your baby is arching his back during a feeding, he may be feeling frustrated or angry for several different reasons. If he is bottle feeding, he may be frustrated that the flow is too slow, which means it is time to go up in nipple size. He may be arching because he is full and a persistent parent is still offering him food. If you think your child is arching out of anger, explore what could be upsetting him.
Babies sometimes arch their backs when they are overstimulated and feeling tired. While this is more likely to happen in a play situation, a tired baby may arch during a feeding to pull away from the breast or bottle to indicate that she is done. If your child's back arching is accompanied by drooping eyelids and yawning, she is probably finished eating for the time being and ready for a nap.
Occasionally, back arching can be an indication of a developmental issue such as autism or Asperger's syndrome. 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. Parents should know that back arching is just one sign of a developmental problem, and will be accompanied by many other symptoms.
In some cases, back arching 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. If your are concerned that your child may have cerebral palsy, talk to your pediatrician right away.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: NINDS Cerebral Palsy Information Page
- BabyZone: Is Back Arching a Sign of Developmental Delay?
- BabyCenter: Behavior Concerns
- Healthy Children: Health Issues: Autism Spectrum Disorders
- AskDrSears: GER: What It Is, What to Do, FAQs
- University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics: Understanding Your Baby's Signals