is it normal for a newborn to twitch? When to Worry and What’s Normal?

Seeing your newborn twitch or startle can be alarming for new parents. But rest assured – it’s very common and generally harmless!

Most newborn twitching is caused by normal developmental factors like reflexes, muscle growth, and brain maturation. These jerky, jittery movements tend to peak around 1-2 months old and then taper off as baby’s nervous system develops.

While dramatic sleep startles may concern you, they are rarely problematic. However, any severe or worsening tremors do warrant a prompt call to the pediatrician.

So read on to learn all about newborn twitching – what’s expected, what’s not, and when to worry.

What Causes Newborns to Twitch?

There are a few reasons why newborns twitch or startle easily:

Immature Nervous System

A baby’s nervous system is still developing after birth. The connections between nerves and muscles are still forming.

This can lead to frequent twitchy movements that might seem random at first. Over time, their movements will become more controlled.

As a general rule, the younger the newborn, the more likely they are to twitch and startle. This is especially common in premature babies.

Natural Reflexes

Babies are born with automatic reflexes designed to help them survive. The startle (or Moro) reflex is very common in newborns.

When they feel like they’re falling, their arms and legs jerk outward. This reflex likely helped grab onto the mother in the wild.

Other reflexes, like the stepping reflex (making walking motions) or grasp reflex (tight grip), can also cause some twitchy movements.

Light Sleep

Newborns spend most of their early weeks in active or quiet sleep. During active sleep, their arms and legs may twitch or jerk around. These movements are more likely while dreaming but can happen anytime.

Growing Pains

As babies grow, their bones, muscles, and nerves go through significant changes. They may twitch in response to “growing pains” as their little bodies develop. This is perfectly normal.

So, in most cases, newborn twitching is caused by standard developmental factors, not anything dangerous or unhealthy.

When Do Newborns Outgrow Twitching?

Most newborn twitching starts to taper off around 2-3 months of age as their nervous system matures. However, each baby develops differently:

  • Preemies and younger infants tend to be more jumpy and twitchy due to their immature systems. The younger they are, the more exaggerated the startles usually are.
  • Older newborns (around 2 months) may still twitch, but likely not as often or forcefully. Their movements become more controlled overall.
  • By 3-4 months, startles and twitches usually decrease significantly. Babies have better head/neck control and arm/leg coordination.
  • Occasional twitches may continue through the first year but should not be as prominent. If twitching persists for the past 6 months, check with your pediatrician.

Keep in mind that some babies are simply more active sleepers than others. Light jerking during sleep may come and go but is rarely cause for concern.

When to Worry About Newborn Twitching

While newborn twitching is generally harmless, there are some rare cases where it could signal an underlying issue. Contact your doctor promptly if you notice any of the following:

  • Twitching becomes more severe (violent jerking motions)
  • Twitching increases/worsens instead of improving over time.
  • Twitching occurs when the baby is awake, not just sleeping
  • Unusual postures like arching neck/back severely during twitches
  • Other symptoms present like fever, breathing issues, poor feeding, etc

If accompanied by other signs of illness, spreading to wakeful hours or regressing developmentally – newborn twitching merits an urgent pediatric visit.

Why Does My Newborn Jerk So Much While Sleeping?

Seeing your sleeping newborn jerk their arms and legs can undoubtedly be alarming! But rest assured that startles and tremors are most often utterly ordinary during infancy.

Here’s why your newborn may be extra twitchy in their sleep:

Starting Myoclonic Twitches

Right around your baby’s due date, their nervous system goes through a developmental leap. They start experiencing myoclonic twitches – jerky muscle spasms during sleep. These harmless tremors are a sign their motor pathways are developing correctly.

Myoclonic twitches typically peak around 1-2 months old. They tend to happen as babies transition sleep cycles into lighter non-REM sleep. While they can be frequent, myoclonic jerks only last a split second.

Moro (Startle) Reflex

That falling feeling that jerks you awake? Newborns experience it, too, due to their strong startle reflex! Any sudden change – like noise, movement, or temperature – can trigger a startle.

You’ll know it when you see the Moro reflex – arms flung outward, rapid breathing, and waking up. As the nervous system calms down by 3-4 months old, so does the startle reflex.

Immature Brain Waves

Newborns have what’s called “trace alternant” brain activity, which shows up as spikes on EEG readings.

These fast, twitchy brain wave patterns early on are a vital part of normal development. But they also lead to more jerky movements!

As coordination improves, “trace alternant” brain waves regulate around 2-6 months old. Your baby’s movements, both asleep and awake, will become less erratic.

So, while dramatic sleep startles can be tough to witness, they are rarely a bad sign. With time, your baby will twitch less and sleep more soundly.

If concerned, your pediatrician can examine your little one or order tests to rule out risks.

Is It Normal for Newborns to Have Jerky Movements While Awake?

It’s natural to worry if your newborn has tremors or twitchy motions while awake. However, it’s essential to understand what’s considered normal – and what merits medical evaluation.

Normal Jerky Motions When Awake

Certain harmless movements when awake are perfectly healthy:

  • Myoclonic twitches – Lightening-fast jerks of arms, legs or eyebrows that last under a second. They tend to come in clusters.
  • Startles – Bigger, whole-body jerks with fast breathing when startled by loud noise, touch, etc. Lasts 5-10 seconds.
  • Tremors – Slight shaking/jitteriness of hands or feet. Light trembling that comes and goes is usually expected. Often caused by being overstimulated, hungry, or tired.
  • Clonus movements – Rhythmic muscle contractions often occur when the foot/ankle rotates. Caused by sensitive stretch reflexes. Resolves by 6 months old.

As babies grow more solid head-neck control and stability in trunk/limbs, most jerky motions resolve.

But if at any point you feel your baby’s tremors are worsening or accompanied by other issues, promptly inform your pediatrician.

Abnormal Motions To Get Evaluated

While there’s a wide range of regular newborn activity, certain motions do require an urgent medical assessment:

  • Seizures – Violent, uncontrolled shaking of arms/legs lasting over 2 minutes. It may be accompanied by staring, loss of alertness, high fever, etc.
  • Cerebral palsy – Persistent muscle stiffness/spasms, writhing motions, and arm/leg postures that get worse over time.
  • Infection – Fever with severe, widespread twitching or stiffening of trunk/neck. Especially if other symptoms are present.
  • Metabolic issue – Unexplained jittery spells, trembling, muscle rigidity along with poor feeding, lethargy, or developmental delay.

If your newborn’s shakiness is severe and accompanied by other concerning symptoms, call your pediatrician or seek emergency care. Prompt diagnosis is critical for optimal outcomes.

When to Seek Pediatric Evaluation

As a general rule of thumb:

  • Consult your pediatrician if tremors/twitches are still happening frequently by 3 months old or worsen from your baby’s baseline activity level.
  • Seek same-day medical help if twitching is violent/prolonged, affects the whole body, or happens alongside other symptoms (breathing issues, fever, trouble feeding, etc). This may indicate seizure, infection, cerebral palsy, or other neurological conditions needing assessment.
  • Call emergency services (9-1-1 or go to ER) if twitching is clearly a seizure (rhythmic jerking over 2+ minutes with loss of alertness/awareness). Getting baby medical attention ASAP is highly time-sensitive to the best outcomes.

When in doubt about any concerning symptom in your newborn, it never hurts to give your pediatrician’s office a quick call. New parent jitters are


In conclusion, it is very common and generally harmless for newborns to have jerky, twitchy movements – both in their sleep and when awake.

This is caused by normal developmental factors like reflexes, muscle growth, and brain maturation.

While parents may worry about dramatic startles or tremors, these usually resolve as baby’s nervous system develops.

However, any severe, prolonged, or worsening twitching accompanied by other symptoms warrants prompt medical evaluation.

Calling your pediatrician with any questions or concerns can bring some peace of mind. With time, your newborn’s movements will become more controlled as their little body gets stronger.

So try not to stress if your little one is a bit jumpy – but also trust your instincts if something seems off. With close attention and good care, soon the twitches will be a thing of the past.

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