Baby Kicking In Sleep: What’s Normal And What’s Not
Here’s a question from one of the readers, Samantha:
“Why is my baby kicking in sleep? She’s almost six months and kicking so much in her sleep that she wakes up almost every hour. She has been doing this for a week. I’m worried she may not be getting enough sleep.”
Well, Samantha, my babies never experienced kicking in sleep. But I did research and found out that a lot of moms have a similar question, so I decided to dedicate a whole article about it.
I am not a medical practitioner in any way. Although my articles are research-based, they should not be taken as medical advice. Only your baby’s doctor has that power.
Baby Kicking In Sleep: What’s Normal
1. Motor development
BabyCenter has a whole thread full of moms asking the same question. If you go through each of the questions and comments, you will notice a pattern:
Baby kicking in sleep starts sometime around 5 months old and disappears when they’re about one year old.
If you check a baby’s development milestones, you’ll see that it’s by this age their motor skills include kicking. According to Dr. John Mersch, 4 to 7 months is when our little ones start kicking their legs. The months before that are mere stretching of the limbs.
Although the kicking in sleep due to this motor development is not medically backed, a lot of parents observed that by the time their babies are at this age, they do kick a lot even in sleep.
So it’s probably safe to say that it’s normal. If she’s awakened put her back to sleep or let her go back to sleep on her own.
However, there’s a caution:
You have to observe the kicking and ensure it’s not convulsive or epileptic in nature. Otherwise, it could be something serious. If you suspect the latter, ask your doctor about it.
2. Disturbed sleep
Another answer to “Why is my baby kicking in sleep?” is simply a disturbed sleep. If she is startled, her automatic response is limb movement. She could raise her arms, her legs, or both.
Some babies would go back to sleep right after getting startled, but if you have a screamer like my son, it would mean you have to lull him to sleep all over again because he wouldn’t stop kicking unless I pick him up. But there’s more to disturbed sleep than we know.
According to Stanford Children’s Health, babies, especially newborns, have a different sleep pattern than us adults. It’s critical to know this pattern so that you know when to put her down.
Babies, unlike adults, usually spend the first 20 minutes in light sleep before going to the deep sleep phase. If she fell asleep in your arms, put her down only when she’s in the deep sleep phase to avoid waking her up.
How do you know she’s in that phase? Here’s what Ask Dr. Sears suggests:
Her breathing pattern is normal.
Her fists are not tightly clenched.
She will stop grimacing and twitching.
Her muscles completely relax.
Also, remember that babies don’t sleep through the night for the first three months or until they reached a certain weight: 12 to 13 pounds says Columbia University Department of Neurology.
Also, infants don’t cry immediately upon waking up. They have this quiet phase when they are observing their surroundings. You may see her eyes closed but she could be moving a little. This is the signal that she needs feeding.
Baby Kicking In Sleep: What’s Not Normal
There’s this thing cold Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD) that can happen even to our little ones. It’s called Pediatric PLMD.
Children’s Health defines PLMD as “a neurological disorder (impacting the brain, spine and connecting nerves) that affects a child’s ability to lie still during the night and may impact the duration and quality of sleep. Formerly known as sleep myoclonus or nocturnal myoclonus, PLMD can affect any age or gender.”
What does PLMD look like?
Compared to the normal kicking, pediatric PLMD is a very brief movement of the limbs. It “can be brief muscle twitches, jerking, leg kicks (jerky legs) or cause the foot to flex.”
In other words, it is a one-time limb movement unlike normal kicking when the movements are continuous for some time.
Also, pediatric PLMD involves one limb at a time. Normal kicking usually involves both. Another difference is the duration. PLMD goes on for about 20 minutes to an hour then no more. It also does not happen every night. PLMD may also occur in the arms.
What causes it?
Pediatric PLMD causes are, as of this writing, unknown. Experts say it could be some abnormalities in the regulation of nerves that travels from our brain to the limbs.
Does it need treatment?
According to WebMD, early symptoms of PLMD should be consulted with a doctor for prevention.
The current treatment plans (for adults) do not cure the abnormality, but it alleviates the symptoms. These plans are necessary particularly if sleep is affected.
Normal Kicking vs. PLMD
To know whether your baby kicking in sleep is normal or not, here’s a brief comparison.
a couple of seconds to minutes
one at a time
Does it affect sleep?
What I’m saying is…
Samantha and the rest of my readers, what I’m telling you here is there are several answers to “Why is a baby kicking in sleep?”
It could be normal--her motor abilities are developing or she was startled and her reflexes are kicking. It could also be an abnormality like pediatric PLMD.
Whatever the cause is, sleep kicking can disturb your little one’s sleep and cause sleep disorder. Make sure you take the necessary steps.
For the normal cases, put her back to sleep yourself or sleep train her. Also, be wary of the time you should be putting her down. She should be in the deep sleep phase; otherwise, you’re back to square one.
In the other case, ask your doctor about how you can handle it properly.