Why Does My Newborn Baby Twitch While Sleeping?

By Arleah DiFebbo
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The common phrase "Sleep like a baby" conjures up images of a newborn in a peaceful, deep slumber for many parents. But, in reality infants twitch, gurgle, stop breathing, flail their arms and cry out in their sleep. All behaviors are normal, and the twitching is most likely the result of a REM cycle or the Moro reflex.

REM Cycle

Close up of a baby's closed eyes.
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Babies dream just like adults do, and that means they have REM, or rapid eye movement, during a cycle of dreaming. During a REM cycle, your newborn's face will twitch. She also probably will breathe irregularly, snort, whimper and jerk her hands and feet. Don't worry, babies will have less REM sleep as they get older.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrician's website, HealthyChildren. org, "After about two to three months the order will change, so that as she grows older, she will cycle through all the non-REM phases before entering REM sleep. This pattern will last into and through adulthood. As she grows older, the amount of REM sleep decreases, and her sleep generally will become calmer. By the age of three, children spend one-third or less of total sleep time in REM sleep."

The Moro Reflex

Sleeping Infant.
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The Moro reflex is another cause of twitching or extreme movement in newborn sleep. Babies are born with a set of reflexes, but the Moro reflex is the most alarming for new parents to witness. When a baby is startled or senses he is falling, he will flail his arms out to the side, jerk suddenly and maybe cry out.

According to Heidi Murkoff, B.S.N, and author of "What to Expect: The First Year," "Like many other reflexes, the Moro is probably a built-in survival mechanism designed to protect the vulnerable newborn; in this case, it's likely a primitive attempt to regain perceived loss of equilibrium." Again, don't get alarmed if you see your baby do this. It would be abnormal if he didn't display the Moro reflex.

Solutions

High angle view of a baby girl sleeping, wrapped in a blanket.
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Although there's no stopping a baby's REM cycle (and she's probably having a good dream anyhow), swaddling your little one while she sleeps will keep her feeling secure, making it less likely her Moro reflex will be triggered. To swaddle a baby: -- Lay a blanket down in diamond shape with the corners at the top, bottom and sides. -- Fold down the top corner and lay your baby down on the blanket with her head above the fold. -- Bring the bottom corner up and tuck under her right side (between her body and the blanket). -- Bring the right corner over her body and tuck under her left side (keep her arms tucked in). -- Finally tuck the left corner over her body and tuck under her right side (between the blanket and the crib mattress). And, remember, you want the blanket to be very snug because a baby has just spent nine months in a small, snug womb.

Other Sleep Odities

Mother sleeping with baby.
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It's not enough that babies have long states of dreaming and display bizarre reflexes in their sleep. Infants will make many strange noises while they snooze. They will gurgle, rapidly breathe, stop breathing for as long as 10 seconds, whimper, cry out, whistle and breathe with a rattling sound if their noses are stuffy. It's all completely normal, and it will, without a doubt, keep parents checking in on their little ones throughout the night.

Warning

High angle view of a baby sleeping in a crib.
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If the following signs are seen in your baby while he is sleeping, immediately call the pediatrician or take him to a hospital's emergency room. Just as a fever or cough when he is awake would be cause for concern, so would these signs while he is sleeping:
-- He has rapid breathing which is more than 60 breaths a minute. Although babies rapidly breathe for short periods while they sleep, rapid breathing with the symptoms listed below could signal respiratory distress. -- His skin turns blue or looks blue-ish in color. -- He sucks in his muscles when he breathes so that his ribs stick out. -- He flares his nose. -- He makes loud grunting noises.

About the Author

Arleah DiFebbo currently freelances for a variety of websites, including eHow.com. Before her freelance occupation, DiFebbo reported for the Lifestyles and Education beats at the Cleveland Daily Banner in Cleveland, TN. DiFebbo also wrote a weekly editorial/community events column. She obtained her journalism degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.