Baby Stretching and Crying

All babies stretch and cry, but how can you tell if the stretch baby is doing is helping them (e.g. with their poo's) or whether they are struggling with something? This article starts with a short 3 minute video below as watching as well reading about this will give you the best ability to help your baby.

As you'll have seen in the video above when baby is stretching it is helping them with their body's functions such as passing wind and pooing. But also they may have tight muscles or tight parts of their body from the birth. For example a tight neck or flat head) and they might be trying to stretch them out, just like you do when your neck is tight.

 But baby is very flexible and so new that they use their whole body to help when they poo, fart, burb, and also if their neck and back is tight as baby is on their back or tummy and not walking around you'll see them stretch and arch through their whole body.

So if baby has an area that's tight or if it's sore when they try to move it it - then that can be a problem. That's when they' may try to push harder with the bit's that can move well - this can be when you see them arch or grunt or really seem to strain and cry out.

Article Written by Dr. J. Evans (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, Well Child Clinic, Gold Coast, Australia)


A Guide To Baby Stretching

Babies stretch a lot, particularly when they are very new. They stretch to get things going, moving and working.  They will stretch a lot particularly after a long sleep. When  baby is stretching they are helping all their muscles and joints work and function,  and as you've probably noticed also helping pass gas and even push out their poo.

I always use 2 guidelines to judge whether your baby's stretching is indicating  whether they have a problem.

Guideline 1 - They are happy and contented when they stretch.

Guideline 2 - If they are unhappy and cry out they only do this for a short time. 

Even if your baby's stretches last a long time and are very frequent that's absolutely fine provided they are happy or they are just grunting  or groaning a little. Pulling faces is also fine as long as it passes quickly and baby doesn't seem upset. But i

"Problem" Baby Stretching

Even when baby is obviously distressed when they stretch this is still very usual, yes it tells you that there is a problem, but it's very important for you to remember that the  'problem'  is usually not serious.

You do not want to ignore a distressed baby when they strech and grunt goan or cry because baby is trying to communicate to you that something is making them unhappy.  If they stay distressed for more than a few moments you may need to investigate further what is happening for your bub.

As well as being a Osteopathic Doctor and seeing this type of distress in babies on a daily basis in my  clinic I also experienced this with our first child and there are few things more distressing for parents than an unhappy baby.  I know I have been there! 

So when I say it's  often not serious I don't mean we shouldn't do something about it - but as a parent, especially if you are a new parent then you need to know that if baby is crying and distressed this is far less serious than when they are lethargic and silent, hot, not feeding or not having regular wet nappies. That's the real danger signs and that's when you need to get baby medical help as soon as possible.

When baby is crying and grunting and making lots of noise they are saying "Heh I've got a pain". But it's a good thing that they are healthy enough to say that and so please remember thats sign of health as we go through and discuss what problems they may have.


Digestive Problems that cause Baby to Stretch, Arch, Grunt & Cry

Now if you've ever overdone it on the food front then you'll know that you can get bad digestive pains, in fact you may even have done some groaning and grimacing but all of that passed after a few hours and it didn't indicate a major or long term problem.

Often that's what's going on for baby - but it's not that they have over indulged it's just that they're new and things are just getting going. So when they are stretching they are actually trying to help their stomach and their bowels digest and work through the food and get rid of trapped gas. And that's crucial to remember so if baby is stretching we often want to help them stretch more. That's a really crucial point because "Baby Stretching" can become something that you do for your baby to help them overcome their pain and help with digestive problems.

I use it a lot in clinic and I often show parents how to help their baby stretch out so they have a way of helping baby when they're at home and baby is having pain and digestive issues. Now that's awesome because there's nothing worse than having your baby in distress and not been able to to help them. 

It also can be a double win because if you help baby stretch out it can prevent them getting a flat head or a flat spot on their head, As often baby's head shape can be good at birth but then they develop a flat spot or a flat head a few weeks or months later. This can be a real shock to parents unless you know the 4 reasons behind why baby's develop a flat head. But once you understand this it's then a simple thing to put a stretch routine in to prevent or fix head shape problems


So let's look at the baby signs that go with baby stretching and see what they mean.

Baby Grunting and Stretching 

This is nearly always digestive, and it can come with clenched fists and often the knees come up to the chest - it often means baby is trying to push wind or poo around the colon so they can get it out of their body. It usually doesn't last that long unless they can't get the poo or wind out and then it it can turn into groaning and crying. (see below)

Baby Stretching and Arching

Especially when baby is distressed this often can mean baby is having difficulties digesting their food, and the arching and stretching is an expression of this discomfort and it's also baby reacting to that to try to 'free' everything up. When I see these baby's in clinic I  help them arch more and it often eases their distress,. If you want to try this remember that you need to support baby properly when you do this so refer to my videos in order to follow along and see what you should do. It can also mean they have colic or reflux (covered below).  

Baby Groaning and Stops Stretching

Groaning is a longer more drawn out sound than grunting and grunting is louder. We spoke earlier about the grunts often being about baby shifting things that are stuck - groans are a bit less specific and it usually means baby has digestive pain. However it can mean that baby is sick and may even have a fever so do check for this. Groans often mean less stretching and arching as baby pulls into a foetal position with arms and legs tucked, although it can alternate from this to sudden screams and arching, which is usually colic or reflux.

Reflux and Colic

This is a common cause of baby stretching and arching and crying and groaning and grunting, basically all of the signs we talked about above all mixed together to give a very distressed baby and a very distressed parent. It is a very big topic and there is a huge amount of advice on the internet, often conflicting advice which makes it hard for you to know where to start.

That's a real problem because as a parent you're short of time and short of sleep.


So for any of the above be it grunting, arching,  reflux or colic I want to show you a short video that will hopefully make a diference for you and your baby, it shows you just one way to stretch out baby.  There are lots and lots of these stretches, they can be extremely useful when helping baby, but it's also important that you see how to do them properly.

There are other specific stretches for everything from baby's bottom (e.g.constipation) to the bits in between (e.g. reflux, colic,) right to their very top (e.g. flat head) if that interests you thand the bottom of the page will explain how to get to get more information on this.

Sample Baby Stretching Video

This video shows how I work with a baby that is stiff through the back and how I explain to Mum how she can stretch out her baby at home. It will help babies who struggle with tummy time, but as you can imagine if you're stiff or sore through the back it can strongly influence baby's happiness in other areas, including of course their ability to sleep on their back.

Dr.  Evans

This article was written by Dr. Jonathan Evans, a Registered Osteopath, who practices at the ION Well Child Clinic in Australia.

Dr. Evans trained in London, England at the British College of Osteopathic Medicine where he graduated  in 1987 with 1st Class Honours.

Since then he has working extensively with new mums, babies and children both in New Zealand and Australia. click Learn More below if you would like to read more of his articles on babies and children.

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