Twitching in the baby


Twitches in babies are sudden patterns of movement, for example of the arms, legs or the whole body. These jerks are a well-known phenomenon in early childhood and are usually without any significant disease value. These are specific reflexes or very banal muscle twitches, as everyone knows them from himself. The twitches are rarely caused by a disease that requires treatment, such as epilepsy. So fresh parents don't have to worry if their baby twitches. It is important to perceive the twitching and its course or possible changes.


First and foremost, one should think of harmless reasons when a child twitches and as a parent not make oneself nervous. In most cases, the baby's twitches are based on triggering the Moro reflex. This is a so-called clasping reflex, in which the baby stretches out his arms and spreads his fingers at the same time, only to bring his arms back together shortly afterwards and clench his hands into a fist. The Moro reflex can be triggered when the baby is frightened of something or while sleeping. It can also be triggered when you have the baby in your arms and suddenly let it sag backwards with a jerk in the supine position. This reflex can be the most common cause of twitching up to 4 months of age, which is considered a completely harmless cause. In addition, twitching is part of the development of motor skills. Before babies learn to grip things, for example, twitching of the hands can be observed. Typical for the 5th month of life are benign muscle twitches during sleep, so-called sleep myoclonus. From the 9th month of life, the phenomenon "Jactatio capitis et corporis nocturna" (English rhythmic movement disorder of the head) can be the cause of the twitches. This phenomenon describes an always identical movement pattern in the sleep of the babies, whereby they tilt their head slightly to and fro. Sometimes there is only a slight twitching or moving back and forth.

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Twitching in the baby when falling asleep

Twitching while falling asleep is a very common phenomenon in babies. As most adults know, this has to do with the fact that one goes into deep sleep while falling asleep. Sometimes you twitch all over your body when you have the feeling of falling or falling. It is similar with the baby when it goes from REM sleep (rapid eye movement) to deep sleep. In REM sleep, the babies are in an active dream phase, while the twitching of the eyelids but also the arms and legs can be observed. In addition, the babies can trigger the Moro reflex in themselves while falling asleep if, for example, they are startled by their own twitching arm. Then the babies often wake up due to the clasping reflex they trigger, which can lead to problems falling asleep and staying asleep.

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Symptoms accompanying twitching in the baby

Symptoms accompanying the twitching may occur depending on the cause. Babies often cry after twitching due to the Moro reflex because they are so scared. Otherwise, harmless sleep myoclonus can announce itself with a tremor of the body. During sleep, it is also not uncommon for babies to wake themselves up due to the twitching, so that accompanying symptoms are often complaints of difficulty falling and staying asleep. Babies who experience such twitching more often are also often restless before and after. If the twitch is due to epilepsy, the whole thing can also be associated with a developmental delay. Also, the baby may seem absent for a brief moment during the twitch. Fortunately, such disorders of development and consciousness occur only very rarely as an accompanying symptom of the twitching.

Baby twitches in the mother's womb

The child's twitching, felt by the mother in the abdomen during pregnancy, is usually quite normal and harmless. They speak for the child's activity and thus vitality. From a certain week of pregnancy after their hearing has matured, babies can perceive noises from the “outside world”, even if it can only be a dull sound. Since babies are already able to drink the amniotic fluid, they can accidentally inhale it and hiccup. The hiccups can then feel like the baby's twitching to the mother. But this is also not at all worrying. In the rarest of cases, stomach twitches are serious causes. However, if you as a mother are still worried, you can visit the gynecologist to check the baby's heartbeat with the help of a CTG (= cardiotocography) and to do an ultrasound scan.

Twitching in the leg

As in any part of the body, the muscles in the leg can twitch. These twitches can occur sporadically in babies or occur repeatedly. A muscle twitch in the leg can come from the muscles themselves, it can be caused by an incorrectly controlled nerve or it can be controlled centrally by the brain. Some babies are prone to slight muscle twitches when they are stressed. If you experience regular twitching in one leg, you should see a pediatrician to rule out nerve disorders.

Twitching of the face

There are many different muscles in the face that are necessary for facial expressions, chewing, vision and much more. Like all muscles, these muscles can also be falsely stimulated and therefore twitch. The so-called cranial nerves, which are responsible for controlling the face, can also send incorrect signals or be incorrectly applied. In some babies a twitching of the eyelids can be observed, especially during dream sleep. No further diagnosis is necessary for individual twitching.

Febrile seizure

Some babies and toddlers are prone to febrile seizures. Febrile seizures are one of the most common emergencies in infancy and childhood. Babies react very quickly to infectious diseases with higher body temperatures. Around five percent of all children will experience at least one febrile seizure during childhood. A febrile seizure is an epileptic fit that is associated with loss of consciousness and whole body twitching.
In most cases, a febrile seizure only lasts a few minutes. A simple febrile seizure has a very good prognosis, but a prolonged seizure can lead to an oxygen deficiency. If a febrile seizure occurs for the first time, the pediatrician or neurologist should do some tests to make sure it is not the first onset of epilepsy. As a preventive measure, babies who are prone to cramps should have their body temperature checked regularly and fever reduced with medication.

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The diagnosis of the child's twitching can be made by careful observation. On the basis of this, parents can already assess whether it is, for example, the harmless Moro reflex that is pronounced up to the 4th month of life and whether there is no need to worry or a medical examination is not necessary. However, if the baby twitches at regular intervals over a long period of time, this should be clarified by a doctor to be on the safe side.There are certain forms of epileptic diseases that can occur in early childhood and must therefore be excluded. The diagnosis of such epilepsy is made clinically. First of all, the doctor takes a precise anamnesis. These include questions about how often the twitches occur, how long the twitches last, whether they occur regularly or irregularly, which parts of the body are twitching, whether the whole body is involved or only part of it and whether there are other symptoms before, during or after the twitches such as wetting, crying, or absence occur. Here it can be helpful to record the baby's twitches with a camera so that the doctor can get an idea of ​​them. In order to verify a possible epilepsy, an EEG (= electroencephalography), a special neurological examination, is necessary.

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How can you tell the twitches apart from epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a seizure in which the affected muscles become uncontrollably tense and twitch at high frequencies. Furthermore, epileptic seizures are mostly single episodes that last a few minutes. Simple twitching occurs again and again and has a significantly lower frequency than a seizure. However, since there is no one form of epilepsy, epilepsy cannot be ruled out in principle. For an exact diagnosis, a medical diagnosis and possibly an EEG, in which the brain waves are measured, is necessary.

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When should you go to the pediatrician?

Individual muscle twitches do not necessarily need to be presented to the pediatrician, but there are some warning signs that may require a doctor's visit. If the twitching occurs repeatedly or on certain occasions, such as stress, a pediatrician and possibly a neurologist should perform additional tests. A pediatrician should also be consulted if the twitching affects the child's personality or becomes inattentive.

Treatment / therapy

Treatment for twitching in babies is only necessary if it is epilepsy. Otherwise it is necessary to wait and act symptomatically. This means, for example, that with the causal Moro reflex, the babies can be swaddled so that they are not frightened by their own moving arms. At this point it should be mentioned that swaddling, i.e. wrapping the child tightly in a cloth, is a controversial therapeutic measure. Relaxation exercises can be helpful for muscle twitching associated with head tilting during sleep.
If it is an epileptic illness, appropriate treatment must be initiated depending on the type of epilepsy. This consists of a drug therapy with so-called "anticonvulsants", ie drugs against seizures.

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Duration / forecast

Depending on the cause of the twitching, its duration varies. If it is the typical Moro reflex, the twitching lasts only a few seconds. The Moro reflex itself is physiologically only pronounced in babies from birth to 4 months of age. It is also noticeable if a baby still has this reflex and needs further clarification. In the case of epilepsy, the twitches can last longer, sometimes minutes, and occur in regular series of seizures. If the twitching is caused by an epileptic illness, the prognosis can be unfavorable. Epilepsies that show up in early childhood are often associated with a high mortality rate in the first few years. Therefore, it is important to clarify any atypical twitches that cannot be explained with a normal Moro reflex or other harmless reasons.