Baby Kicking Legs and Crying: Just My Baby or Do All of Them Do This?

Each of my daughters was very different as babies. Perhaps it was our general cluelessness, despite reading everything about babies while I was pregnant. Or maybe she was just a bit more challenging, but our eldest was difficult in the first 6 weeks of life.

This baby screaming and pulling legs up would scare us. Did we hurt her? I called Vivien, my breastfeeding coach, to tell her how my baby keeps pulling her legs up and crying.

She could hear our daughter in the background. She said she sounded distressed and that tummy trouble was the likely culprit. So is that what you can expect when a baby is kicking legs and crying?

Not always, but it is a good place to start. Generally, when newborn legs are curled up, a baby is lifting legs in the air, or the baby is bringing knees to chest and grunting, you’re likely dealing with gas or digestion situations.

It’s not your fault either. These things just happen. Let’s get to the bottom of why so you can help your little angel.

Why does my baby keep pulling his legs up?

When it comes to babies, they are gassy little things. But they are not fully developed internally yet, so passing gas is more of a struggle.

Hence, babies will often change positions to try to get the discomfort to go away. So you will see your baby pulling legs to chest, and if all goes well, you may hear a fart or two erupt from their tiny little bottoms.

Usually, the cause is gas-related. Even now, as an adult, I can tell you that’s uncomfortable. I’ve had it happen to me too, where I felt very unpleasant and after moving around a bit, TOOT! Ah, that’s better!

Cute baby girl lying and pulling leg into her mouth

When your baby brings the knees to the chest, that wind is trapped, and your baby is trying to get it out. Make sure after each feeding, you burp your baby or work her legs to help get the gas out. As she gets bigger, she will be able to do this for herself with no problem.

However, if you notice she seems upset after feedings, this is the likely culprit.

What if something else is wrong?

I want to reassure you that this is very unlikely as it’s so rare. In almost every instance of your child bringing her legs to her chest, she likely has gas. But it could also indicate intussusception when the intestine draws into itself. This can block your breast milk or formula and cut off the blood supply.

See? I didn’t even want to tell you this because I know you’ll worry. Your child is fine! But as always, if you have any concerns, you should call your pediatrician to discuss them.

The signs of this condition are undeniable, though, so there’s no way you’d be like, “Naw, this baby is fiiiiiiine.”

The signs include:

sleepy baby on mom's chest
  • Lots of loud, very sudden crying
  • Pulling knees to the chest during this crying
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargic behavior
  • Blood and mucus in the stool
  • Fever

Again, this is a rare condition, but if your baby has symptoms like this, you’ll want to get medical attention right away.

Why does my baby kick his legs so much at night?

Some of you are concerned about a kangaroo-kicker at night. I would like you to know that most wee ones are restless in sleep. However, periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) involves excessive leg kicking. It’s not severe, but if you find your child is moving so much in bed it’s disturbing him every night, it’s definitely one to talk to the pediatrician about.

Most babies do a fair amount of movement in their sleep. I just discussed the Moro reflex in my last post, which can account for some of that. Others are just excited to be discovering the new things they can do.

And yes, some of them simply have gas in their sleep too.

What can I do to help the baby when she pulls her legs up?

If your baby seems agitated when she’s pulling her legs up, I’m going with gas. If she’s not agitated, she’s probably exploring her legs and moving them around.

For upset tummies, rub her belly gently going clockwise. If that doesn’t do the trick, put her face-down across your knees and gently wiggle your legs. This will massage her belly.

And, of course, the old-fashioned burping on your shoulder can help her out too.

Don’t forget to use your soothing voice with the baby when she’s upset. Babies don’t understand gas, but we do. Letting her know it’s all OK and everything will be fine will help her calm down.

She’ll remember each time, too, and she’ll be less likely to get so upset.

When should I worry about the baby pulling legs to chest?

If your baby is crying loudly and that crying gets louder and longer, check for other symptoms. Check for fever, or if your baby is vomiting or not acting at all like themselves, it’s time to call the doctor.

But don’t let that scare you. Most of the time, this too shall pass as they say!

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