My baby arches his back and throws his head back

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Educational psychologist, Cara Blackie, answers: 

What your baby seems to be going through is very typical behaviour and can start from as early as nine months. What your child is trying to tell you is that he is uncomfortable or unhappy and needs some assistance to feel calm again. It seems like your baby is only doing this when he gets frustrated, but it’s important to look out for physical causes of your baby’s discomfort. It could be that he is teething or he may have reflux. Both of these can often result in your baby becoming agitated and frustrated. While the classic arching of the back and flinging the head back is indicating frustration and uncontrollable emotions, it can also overwhelm your child’s sense of safety and control of his body.

The best way to view this type of behaviour is by seeing it as dysregulation rather than a tantrum. During the course of normal development, the brain organises sensory input from a baby’s environment. These sensory inputs will consist of sound, sight, touch, movement, body awareness and the pull of gravity. These form the building blocks for your child’s more complex learning that takes place as he grows.

What your son is doing indicates a proprioceptive dysregulation. This refers to the sensory input and feedback that tells us about movement and body position. This system provides feedback from your baby’s muscles, joints, and tendons that enables him to know your body’s position in space. In times of stress or frustration your baby’s body is flooded with hormones that stimulate his nervous system into survival mode. As a result, his muscles tense up, heart rate increases, temperature rises, breathing becomes shallow, and his vision and hearing are heightened. The fastest way to bring your child back into regulation is through the use of sensory toys and tools. Try activating or stimulating his sense of touch. For example, squeeze and hug your baby tightly, place a weighted blanket on top of him, or even give him a weighted toy that can help reposition your baby’s body in space. However, if this continues for a long time and you start to notice other sensory difficulties, it is important to consult with an occupational therapist who has done sensory integrative training.

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