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Arching Back and Crying in Newborn Infants

There is nothing abnormal about a crying baby. Infants always cry because it is their primary communication method that they need something. However, crying with an arched back is somewhat abnormal for a young infant.

Babies exhibit various 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 severe 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 severe conditions, the likelihood of that is rare in an otherwise normal and healthy baby. Many non-serious, non-threatening explanations exist for a baby arching back and crying.

Arching the back is usually just a part of normal development. Babies are learning to control and use their muscles and may arch their backs as they explore movement.

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 less severe, more likely explanations.

Tired Baby

Sometimes, the obvious solution is the answer. Some babies arch their backs when they are sleepy as a way of fighting sleep or because they are too tired.

Infant Acid Reflux

Acid reflux (gastroesophageal reflux) is an everyday 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 commonly cause arched back crying.


Colic is a prevalent condition in newborns and infants. It often causes abdominal pain. Arching the back is a typical response in babies experiencing abdominal pain. It is an instinctive reaction to relieve discomfort.

Colic can be very uncomfortable for smaller babies and is probably the most likely explanation for the arching back and crying, particularly in young babies. This is a common cause of a baby with an arching back crying at night.

The exact cause of colic is unknown, but it may involve several factors, including digestive system immaturity, an imbalance in healthy gut bacteria, food sensitivities (like lactose intolerance), or overstimulation. There’s no definitive cure for colic, but various strategies can help soothe a colicky baby. These include gentle rocking, swaddling, using white noise, ensuring a calm environment, and trying different feeding positions.

So when a baby with colic arches their back and cries, it is often a response to the discomfort or pain they are experiencing.

Startle Reflex

The startle reflex, medically known as the Moro reflex, is a normal, involuntary motor response in newborns and infants. It’s one of several reflexes that babies are born with and indicates healthy neurological development.

The reflex is typically triggered when a baby feels a sudden loss of support or is startled by a loud noise or abrupt movement. This can happen, for example, if the baby is laid down too quickly or hears a loud sound.

While the exact purpose of the Moro reflex isn’t completely understood, it’s thought to be a primitive fight-or-flight reaction. It may also be a way for infants to show they need to be comforted.

The reflex begins to diminish around two months of age and typically disappears by 4 to 6 months. The reflex fades as the infant’s neurological system matures and develops more control over movements.

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, 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 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 your 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. Again, and we are beating a dead horse here, it is unlikely that your child’s back arching is a sign of a birth injury.

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 determine whether medical malpractice was involved. Call us at 800-553-8082 or click here for a free online consultation.

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