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Arching Back and Crying in Newborn Infants

Baby CryingThere is nothing abnormal about a crying baby. Infants cry all the time because it is their primary method of communicating that they need something. However, crying with an arched back is somewhat abnormal for a young infant. 

Babies exhibit various different types of crying that mean different things (e.g., tired, hungry, etc.). Loud, intense crying with arching of the back is usually a signal of physical pain. Back arching by crying infants is often their own desperate attempt to alleviate pain or discomfort. Arched back crying can sometimes be an indication of a serious medical issue or even conditions related to developmental delays like cerebral palsy

This does not mean you should push the major panic button anytime your baby cries with an arched back. Although arching back and crying can be related to serious conditions, the likelihood of that is rare in an otherwise normal and healthy baby. There are many non-serious, non-threatening explanations for arched back crying.

Potential Reasons for Arched Back Crying

Below is a list of potential conditions that can cause arched back crying. We will start by looking at some of the less serious, more likely explanations.

Infant Acid Reflux

Acid reflux (also known as gastroesophageal reflux) is a normal occurrence for infants and older babies. It occurs when food, milk or formula in the stomach refluxes back up and causes the baby to spit up. Even completely healthy babies often experience reflux numerous times a day because the muscle between the stomach and esophagus is not fully grown and functional. This condition is usually temporary and goes away as most babies get older. Reflux can be very uncomfortable, however, and can be a common cause for arched back crying.


Colic is an extremely common condition in newborns and infants. The exact nature and causes of the condition are not entirely clear. It is believed to be related to gas and an immature, overly sensitive nervous system. Whatever the cause, colic can be very uncomfortable for smaller babies and is probably the most likely explanation for the arching back and crying, particularly young babies.

Nerve Damage

Sometimes during childbirth (particularly with longer, high stress deliveries) a baby’s nerves can get pinched and slightly damaged in the birth canal. This is particularly common with delivery complications such as shoulder dystocia. Damaged or pinched nerves can cause involuntary back arching and discomfort. Serious nerve damage during childbirth can actually cause a baby to arch its back and cry.  Is this likely the course of your child’s discomfort?  It is not.


Kernicterus is an uncommon type of infant brain damage caused by extremely high levels of bilirubin. High bilirubin levels are caused by jaundice which is a common condition in newborns. If your baby has jaundice, arched back crying could be an early sign of this serious condition and you should probably take them to the doctor right away. 

If not treated right away, kernicterus can cause hearing loss, mental disabilities and in sometimes death. Additional symptoms of kernicterus can include a bulging soft lump in the head, poor reflexes and sometimes seizures.

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy refers to a group of neurologic disorders caused by brain damage during pregnancy or childbirth. Involuntary muscle movements or spasms are a common symptom of certain types of cerebral palsy. If your baby seems to be arching his back involuntarily then it could be a sign of cerebral palsy.  But the probability of cerebral palsy absent a very challenging birthing process is very low. 

Contact the Birth Injury Lawyers at Miller & Zois

If you baby’s arching back and crying turns out to be the first indication of a much more serious condition such as cerebral palsy, you need to consider the possibility that the condition was caused by medical negligence. Birth injuries like cerebral palsy are frequently the result of poor judgment or mistakes by doctors and staff in the labor and delivery room. 

If your baby’s birth injury was the result of a doctor’s mistake or carelessness, you have every right to get financial compensation. The Miller & Zois birth injury lawyers can help you investigate your case and find out whether medical malpractice was involved. Call us at 800-553-8082 or click here for a free online consultation.

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